The Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) works to understand and mitigate barriers to wind power deployment by conducting research and development activities aimed at addressing siting and environmental issues. When properly sited, wind projects provide a net environmental benefit to the communities in which they operate and to the nation overall. 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
As with all energy supply options, wind energy can have adverse environmental impacts, including the potential to reduce, fragment, or degrade habitat for wildlife, fish, and plants. Furthermore, spinning turbine blades can pose a threat to flying wildlife like birds and bats. Due to the potential impact that wind power can have on wildlife, and the potential for these issues to delay or hinder wind development in high-quality wind resource areas, addressing impact minimization, siting, and permitting issues are among the wind industry’s highest priorities.
To address these issues and support environmentally sustainable development of wind power in the United States, WETO invests in projects that seek to characterize and understand the impact of wind on wildlife both on land and offshore. Furthermore, WETO invests in activities to collect and disseminate scientifically rigorous peer-reviewed research on environmental impacts through centralized information hubs such as Tethys. The office also invests in scientific research that enables the innovation and development of cost-effective technologies that can minimize wildlife impacts at land-based and offshore wind farms.
WETO works to facilitate interagency collaboration on wind energy impacts and siting research to enable effective stewardship of taxpayer dollars in addressing environmental issues related to wind deployment in the United States.
Below are several examples of WETO's investments:
- The office has funded peer-reviewed research for more than 24 years, in part through collaborative partnerships with the wind industry and environmental organizations, such as the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC) and the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative.
- The NWCC was formed in 1994 by DOE's wind office in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to broadly address barriers to wind energy development, including transmission, power markets, and wildlife impacts. Over the past decade, the focus of the NWCC has shifted primarily to addressing and disseminating high-quality information regarding environmental impacts and solutions.
- In May 2009, DOE's wind office announced nearly $2 million in environmental research grants aimed at reducing the risks to key species and habitats from wind power developments. One report, completed and released in 2013 by researchers from Kansas State University in collaboration with NWCC’s Grassland Community Collaborative, found that wind development in Kansas had no strong effects on the population and reproduction of greater prairie chickens.
- Since its formation in 2003, the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative has been engaged in numerous research activities funded by DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, including studies assessing the impact of altering the cut-in-speed of wind turbines (the minimum wind speed at which wind turbines begin producing power), and the use of ultrasonic acoustic deterrents aimed at reducing impacts to bats at wind turbines.
- WETO is also funding research and development projects that advance the technical readiness of bat impact mitigation and minimization technologies through a competitive funding opportunity. The Energy Department is supporting the following companies, universities, and organizations to field test and evaluate near-commercial bat impact mitigation technologies, which will provide regulators and wind facility owner-operators with viable and cost effective tools to reduce impacts on bats: Bat Conservation International, Frontier Wind, General Electric, Texas Christian University, and University of Massachusetts.
- WETO is also funding research and development projects that advance the technical readiness of bat impact mitigation and minimization technologies through a competitive funding opportunity. The Energy Department is supporting the following companies, universities, and organizations to field test and evaluate near-commercial bat impact mitigation technologies, which will provide regulators and wind facility owner-operators with viable and cost effective tools to reduce impacts on bats: Bat Conservation International, Frontier Wind, General Electric, Texas Christian University, and University of Massachusetts. For project updates and testing results as of March 2018, please see the Status and Findings of Developing Technologies for Bat Detection and Deterrence at Wind Facilities webinars hosted by the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative.
- In 2016, WETO selected six teams to improve technologies that will protect eagles sharing airspace with wind turbines. More than $3 million was allocated across the six teams for groundbreaking, critical eagle-impact minimization technology research and development projects. The research supported by this funding will provide wind plant owner-operators with viable and cost-effective tools for reducing potential impacts to eagles at wind farms. This important research builds on the Energy Department’s work to enable wind power deployment and ensure coexistence with wildlife by addressing siting and environmental issues. If successful, the research will protect wildlife while also providing the wind industry with new tools to minimize regulatory and financial risks.
- WETO supports research activities that address biological interactions with offshore wind turbines. With this support, researchers are collecting critical information on marine life and offshore bird and bat activity that affects the deployment of U.S. offshore wind projects. For example, the Biodiversity Research Institute and a wide variety of collaborators conducted the largest ecological study ever completed in the Mid-Atlantic to produce a detailed picture of the environment in Mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Areas that will facilitate permitting and environmental compliance for offshore wind projects.
WETO also works with other federal agencies to develop guidelines that enable developers to meet the statutory, regulatory, and administrative requirements for protecting wildlife, national security, and public safety. For example, the Wind Energy Technologies Office worked with the Department of the Interior to develop its Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines and Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance.
Assessing and Mitigating Radar Interference
WETO is also involved in an interagency partnership aimed at addressing the potential impacts of operating wind turbines on defense and civilian radar systems. Over the past several years, in conjunction with the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Office has worked through the Interagency Field Test and Evaluation (IFT&E) campaigns to characterize the impact of wind turbines on the existing air surveillance radars, assess near-term mitigation methods proposed by industry, and collect and analyze data to advance research and development of long-term mitigation methods. Learn more from the Wind Turbine Radar Interference Mitigation Fact Sheet.
Three rounds of air testing near wind energy facilities in Minnesota and Texas were conducted during 2012 and 2013, culminating in a report and factsheets summarizing the testing. DOE and its interagency partners are working to build off these tests to ensure that mitigation methods that have been tested can be deployed to reduce impacts to radar near wind facilities.
Additionally, the U.S. Wind Turbine Database (which can be viewed with 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. This effort dovetails with DOE’s interagency work to address the potential impacts of operating wind turbines on defense and civilian radar systems through the Wind Turbine Radar Interference Mitigation Working Group (WTRIM). Work under WTRIM 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.
To learn more about the wind-radar interference mitigation strategy and approaches, visit WINDExchange.
Environmental Impacts and Siting Resources
The following resources contain additional information about environmental impacts and siting:
- Tethys: DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a novel database that houses a rich and diverse variety of resources on the potential environmental effects of offshore wind and marine and hydrokinetic development. Tethys features an interactive map of ocean energy environmental monitoring and research projects around the world. The newest addition to Tethys, the Working Together to Resolve Environmental Effects of Wind Energy (WREN) hub, houses resources on land-based wind environmental research and addresses environmental issues such as interactions between wildlife and wind turbines associated with the development of land-based and offshore wind energy projects.
- National Wind Coordinating Collaborative: The NWCC provides information on wind wildlife research, including regular newsletters, webinars, meeting proceedings and presentations, and other information sharing tools.
- Wind Turbine Interactions with Birds, Bats, and their Habitats: This resource from the American Wind Wildlife Institute summarizes the current state of research on wind-wildlife interactions.
- Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC) Publications: BWEC is an alliance of state and federal agencies, private industry, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions that develops solutions to mitigate wind turbines’ impacts on bats. BWEC has published several reports on its research, such as a synthesis of bat fatality mitigation studies and an evaluation of the effectiveness of ultrasonic acoustic deterrents.
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You can also read more articles about environmental impacts and siting that appeared in past issues of the Wind R&D Newsletter.