Properly sited and operated wind turbines lead to increased environmental and economic benefits for communities that host renewable energy development, and to the nation overall. DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) works to understand and mitigate challenges to wind energy deployment and operation. This includes engaging with stakeholders, facilitating research, and disseminating results on cost-effective approaches to monitoring and minimizing the environmental impacts of wind energy.
To see a full listing of projects supported by WETO, see the Projects Map and select Program Area: Environmental Impacts and Siting.
Assessing and Mitigating Environmental Impacts
Wind energy development and operations can negatively affect wildlife, which can delay U.S. wind development and potentially impact populations. Reducing these impacts through objective, scientifically sound siting and mitigation strategies helps ensure the benefits outweigh the challenges.
To support environmentally sustainable development of wind energy in the United States, WETO invests in innovative, cost-effective technologies that can refine our understanding of these risks and minimize wildlife impacts at land-based and offshore wind farms. These technologies include monitoring, deterrent, and curtailment tools. WETO also supports studies and other peer-reviewed research, which are available at WindExchange and Tethys.
Since the 1990s, DOE research, conducted in partnership with industry, universities, other federal entities, and nongovernmental organizations, has greatly improved the understanding of wind-wildlife interactions and has identified potential solutions for a range of issues. For example, slowing the rotation speed of wind turbines during specific periods of risk, called “curtailment,” is one method for minimizing bat fatalities around wind turbines.
As wind energy technology expands its geographic reach and technologies evolve, wildlife impacts will grow and change—creating an evolving need for effective technological, operational, and siting solutions and for research to inform solution designs.
Research and Development Project Examples
WETO funds peer-reviewed research through collaborative partnerships with the wind industry and environmental organizations, as well as through competitive funding opportunities. In addition to land-based wind farm environments, WETO also supports research collecting critical information on marine wildlife and ecosystems that will inform the deployment of U.S. offshore wind farms. Below are several examples of WETO's investments:
- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2022 awarded three companies funding to support research on bat behavior near wind turbines. Selected through the NREL Enabling Coexistence Options for Wind Energy and Wildlife program, which is funded by DOE, the awardees will receive a portion of the $1.1 million total to research how bats behave near wind turbines and power plants.
- In 2021-2022, DOE and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management awarded over $15 million for research to support wildlife and fisheries monitoring efforts on the East Coast and help prepare the West Coast for floating offshore wind energy development. The awarded funds included $13.5 million toward four projects that support environmental monitoring, and an additional project selected to receive $1.6 million to support the coexistence of bats with offshore wind on the West Coast.
- The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC), which is coordinated by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), has been engaged in numerous research activities, including studies assessing the effectiveness of curtailment and the use of ultrasonic acoustic deterrents to dissuade bats from entering the airspace around wind turbines.
- For additional examples of WETO-funded projects to promote coexistence of U.S. offshore wind with wildlife, see our web page on Offshore Wind Market Acceleration Projects.
WETO also works with other federal agencies with the authority to develop guidelines that enable developers to meet the statutory, regulatory, and administrative requirements for protecting wildlife, national security, and public safety. For example, WETO supported the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s development of its Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines and Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance. Additionally, WETO partners with the United States Geological Survey and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on ways to measure wildlife behavior and mitigate any negative impacts of land-based and offshore wind energy.
Environmental Impacts and Siting Resources
WETO's collaborative, information-sharing efforts help advance the collective knowledge of best-available science and drive future research partnerships. Examples of information resources built with DOE support include:
- Tethys: DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has developed a database that houses a rich and diverse variety of resources on the potential environmental effects of land-based and offshore wind as well as marine and hydrokinetic energy development. Tethys features an interactive map of ocean energy environmental monitoring and research projects around the world.
- The International Energy Agency Wind Technology Collaboration Programme Task 34, Working Together to Resolve Environmental Effects of Wind Energy (WREN), is housed on Tethys. WREN, which is led by NREL and supported by WETO, facilitates international collaboration and advances global understanding of potential environmental effects of wind energy.
- U.S. Synthesis of Environmental Effects Research (SEER): This joint effort between PNNL and NREL is a multiyear project to facilitate knowledge transfer about offshore wind and environmental research, as well as identify future research priorities. SEER has three main outcomes: a set of short research briefs, a series of webinars, and two workshops resulting in specific research recommendations for the east and west coast.
Assessing and Mitigating Radar Interference
WETO is addressing the potential impacts of operating wind turbines on defense and civilian radar systems as part of an interagency effort with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Wind Turbine Radar Interference Mitigation Working Group, which guided a series of 2020–2021 webinars, aims to build stakeholder relationships, reveal perspectives on offshore wind energy impacts on radar missions, and identify mitigation strategies. Work under this group includes a 2021 report from MIT Lincoln Laboratory assessing whether changing turbine spacing in a new wind farm can reduce or prevent the impacts on radar.
Learn more in the Wind Turbine Radar Interference Mitigation Fact Sheet or visit WINDExchange for additional information about the wind-radar interference mitigation strategy and approaches.
Additionally, the U.S. Wind Turbine Database (which can be accessed via the U.S. Wind Turbine Database Viewer) has been used by the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to perform crucial operational impact assessments of wind turbines on radar.
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