Environmental Committee

Chair: Stanley F. Radon
NYSDEC
sradon@daemen.edu

The goal of the Environmental Committee is to identify and discuss all potential environmental issues associated with wind energy development in Buffalo and WNY. Sources of information for evaluation are also provided.

Benefits of Wind Energy
For decades, wind power advocates have proclaimed the environmental virtues of wind energy. Wind power emits no carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, or any nitrogen oxides. Essentially, wind power will not contribute to the real threats of pollution and global warming, and will lessen dependency on fossil fuels.

Issues of Concern
However, there are real and potential environmental issues associated with a wind turbine or a wind turbine farm. Below are both generic and regionally specific issues associated with wind energy development in Buffalo and Western New York. Positive and negative aspects of each issue are briefly discussed and are followed by a number of web links which will provide more detailed information.

Avian and Bat Collisions
Visual Impacts
Effects on Property Values
Public Health & Safety
Electromagnetic Interference
Noise
Shadow Flicker
Effects on Surrounding Land Use
Offshore Issues
Wind Farms Located on Land
Environmental Review
Zoning


AVIAN AND BAT COLLISIONS
AVIAN COLLISIONS

Positive Aspects: Studies have shown that bird collisions are not a significant problem at nearly all potential wind development areas. It is estimated that when compared to other human structures, bird collisions with turbines are minimal. Each year, it is estimated that 100 million to well over 1 billion birds are killed annually in the United States from collisions with man made structures, including vehicles, buildings, windows, power lines, communication towers, and wind turbines (See Figure 1) (1). Of that total, avian mortality caused by collisions with wind turbines is estimated at approximately 33,000 fatalities per year or 2.19 avian fatalities per turbine per year in the United States. To further put this issue into perspective, the National Audubon Society estimates avian mortality due to house cats at 100 million birds per year- roughly 3,000 times greater than the amount of fatalities currently caused by wind turbines (2).

Figure 1. Estimated Annual Avian Collision Mortality in the U.S.

Causal Factors Deaths
Buildings and Windows 98 million-980 million
Vehicles 60 million-80 million
Power lines tens of thousands-174 million
Communication Towers 4 million-50 million
Wind Facilities 10,000-40,000

Figure 2. A summary of avian fatalities resulting from collisions with wind turbines across the United States (3).

State Location Study Period Number of Turbines Bird Fatalities
Massachusetts Princeton Wind Farm Autumn and winter, 1993 8 older 0
New York Madison (Central New York) 2001-2002 7 modern 4
Pennsylvania Somerset County 2001-2002 8 modern 0
Wisconsin Door County Peninsula 1999-2000 31 modern 21(mostly songbirds)
Kansas St. Mary’s 3 migration seasons 2 modern 0
Iowa Algona 3 seasons 3 modern 0
Minnesota Buffalo Ridge 1997-2002 200+ 53(1 raptor;No endangered or threatened species).
California Altamont Pass 1989-2002 5400 (mostly older) High raptor mortality
(exceptionally high raptor and prey density)
California Montezuma Hills 2+ years 237 older11 modern 10 raptor
2 songbird
1 duck
Colorado Ponnequin 1998-2002 29 modern 16
(1 raptor; no endangered species)
Wyoming Arlington 1998-2000 105 modern 75(mostly songbirds)
(3 raptors)
Oregon Vanscycle 1999 38 modern 8 song birds
4 game birds

The wind farm industry has been developing new designs and methods to further minimize bird collisions. The most effective plan would to avoid areas near bird feeding, resting and roosting areas, low-level flight paths, and wetlands. By conducting a Biological Resource Survey (BRS) before construction, this can determine what type of impacts a wind farm would have on various bird species. A BRS would be able to predict many problems associated with collisions and these problems would be addressed before construction. Presently, almost every wind farm conducts a BRS and this has lead to large reductions in avian injuries and deaths (2).

Another factor that would decrease avian collisions would be to increase the visibility of wind turbines. Bird behavior studies have shown that when wind turbines are visible, birds will change direction to avoid colliding with the structure. Features, such as, painting blades a lighter color, providing night lighting, and installing monolithic turbine towers will make turbines more visible and decrease bird collisions

Negative Aspects: Despite progress in minimizing avian collisions, this issue is still perhaps the most serious environmental threat that wind farms produce. Like tall buildings and bridges, wind turbines can be susceptible to bird collisions at very low rates. The accidents depend on the two primary factors; the type of turbine tower construction and local bird habitats/migration paths (1).

Early wind energy facilities in the United States were often constructed in areas without obtaining a full understanding of the level of avian use. A notable wind farm, with bird collision problems, is Altamont Pass, west of the San Francisco Bay area. According to biologist at the California Energy Commission, wind turbines in around Altamont Pass kill 100 to 300 raptors per year, and 20 to 50 are golden eagles. Other hawk species and predatory birds are also killed and this is a severe problem (4). Unfortunately, the high level of mortality could have been avoided at the Altamont by simply monitoring the raptor population before construction began. In addition experts suggest that if wind developers had simply observed the large population of ground squirrels present at the site, it would have been clear that the area was not suitable for wind farm development. The knowledge of the presence of such a food source would have suggested that raptors would be attracted to the area in large numbers. However, in recent years the problem of avian collisions has been largely reduced through the sophistication of wind turbine technology and data collection (2).

BAT COLLISIONS

Positive Aspects: Bat collisions at wind farms have recently become a concern as an increasing number of wind energy facilities are being developed. However, it should be noted that bat collisions are not unique to wind farms because bats are known to collide with the same structures birds have collisions. These structures include: power lines, tall buildings, lighthouses, communication towers, and fences (5).

In North America, there are forty-six bat species, and only eleven species have been identified as having had wind facility related deaths. Out of all the wind farms in the United States, no endangered or threatened bats have been found. For U.S. wind projects, the overall average bat death rate us 3.4 fatalities per turbine per year, or 4.6 per MW per year. Studies have shown that the highest bat mortality are found in the Eastern U.S., but all other regions of the U.S. have relatively low bat fatality rates (5).

Bat Fatality Estimates in the U.S., by Region

Region

Number of Studies

Fatalities/Turbine/year

Approximate Annual Fatalities

East

2

46.3

2,176

Rocky Mountains

2

1.2

129

Upper Midwest

4

1.7

686

Northwest

4

1.2

675

Negative Aspects: Nevertheless, bat collision deaths often exceed avian collision mortality. A study performed at a wind farm near Buffalo Ridge, Minnesota found that during the time period between mid-July and mid-September, there were 175 bat fatalities, compared to only 10 avian fatalities. For U.S. wind projects, the overall average bat fatality rate is 3.4 fatalities per turbine per year, or 4.6 per Megawatts per year (5).

Bat deaths usually occur in late summer and early fall. Existing data has showed that the late summer increase in death is not due to increased numbers of inexperienced juvenile bats. This is seen in a study in Minnesota, at the Buffalo Ridge site, where 68 % of the fatalities were adults. Also, in Oregon/Washington, at Stateline, 64% of the fatalities were adults. Solutions to minimize bat problems are currently being investigated by several organizations including, Bat Conservation the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of EnergyÍs National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and several others (5).

Websites:

Curry Kerlinger, LLC describe themselves as “Consultants to the Wind Power Industry on birds and other wildlife issues.” Ross D. James – Bird Observations at the Pickering Wind Turbine
Defenders of Wildlife
National Wind Coordinating Committee
State of the Birds – National Audubon Society
Western Ecosystems Technology Wildlife monitoring protocols for wind power projects (listed under Projects & Reports on their site) including the Buffalo Ridge (Minn.) Wind Plant Avian and Bat Monitoring Study.
Important Bird Areas of Canada
American Wind Energy AssociationFact Sheet
Danish Wind Industry Association


VISUAL IMPACT

Positive Aspects: Locations of wind turbines may affect the visual or aesthetic properties of the surrounding environment, especially where there is a high value placed on the landscapes. This is known as ïvisual impactÍ. Visual impacts have a direct effect on a personÍs enjoyment and comfort of the landscape. The landscape is viewed from different perspectives and the aesthetics of a wind turbine is personal preference (6). The color of turbines must be chosen to minimize reflections and glare from the rotating blades. The turbines must blend or be unobtrusive to the surrounding landscape. In most cases, light environmental colors (light gray) with a matted finish is the most effective to enhance visibility and reduce negative visual impacts. The layout of the turbines should be in accordance with the existing landscape and sensitive to natural and man-made views. The use of modern monolithic towers and the prohibition of advertising signs at the site are also recommended. An assessment has to be made as to whether or not they would hinder any natural or existing man-made views (1)

Negative Aspects: Many turbines are becoming larger in size and capacity, which makes them more visible from long distances. In Europe, opinions on the visual impact of turbines have been divided, but almost all regulations in European countries have clauses to make wind farms more acceptable visually. Regulations ranging from tower design considerations to vista zones are part of the site selection criteria and these criteria are beginning to be considered at U.S. wind farms (6).

Websites:

National Wind Coordinating Committee
American Wind Energy AssociationFact Sheet
www.middelgrunden.dk/


EFFECTS ON PROPERTY VALUES:

Positive Aspects:As wind energy projects have increased, many opponents have claimed that wind development will lead to lower property values. However, according to a study performed by the Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP), the results suggest that wind turbine development does not appear to effect the property values. This study examined property transactions near turbines inCalifornia,Minnesota,Iowa as well as states. Overall, 25,000 real estate transactions were evaluated by REPP. After accounting for comparable sales outside the viewshed of the wind farms selected, defined as beyond five miles (8km) from the turbines, the study found that viewshed property generally increased in value faster than property with no view of wind turbines (4).(The report, The Effect of Wind Development on Local Property Values, can be viewed at the REPP link below.)

Negative Aspects:In some circumstances, developing wind farms in particular areas could adversely affect adjacent property values. Recently, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), researched the impact of wind farms on property value in theUnited Kingdom. Most of their research focused on wind farms around agricultural lands. They found that nearly two thirds (63%) of respondents reported no effect on agricultural land value, but 28 % did report a decreased value. However, nearly one in ten (9%) respondents have reported that farmland values are boosted by proximity to wind farm. RCIS also found that after a wind farm was completed, property prices began to recover after a wind farm has been running for two years (7).

Websites:
REPP Study: The Effect of Wind Development on Local Property Values
National Wind Coordinating Committee
American Wind Energy AssociationFact Sheet


PUBLIC HEALTH & SAFETY

Positive Aspects: In order to maintain public safety, maintenance crews monitor the condition of the blades physically and with sensors through a central monitoring system. The sensing equipment can detect load imbalances and will automatically stop the turbines when a problem is detected. The chance of turbine blade loss is very low. Most modern wind turbines are contain vibration sensors and heating units to detect and prevent any imbalance that might be caused by icing of the blades. Therefore, operation of turbines with iced blades and potential hazards can be prevented. In addition, areas around wind turbines can be restricted during winter months to prevent an injury from falling ice (1).

Negative Aspects: An important safety issue, but rare in occurrence, is the possibility of the loss of a piece of the blade or the loss of the blade itself. As noted before, the chance of this happening is very low In cold climate areas, ice shedding may occur. In rare cases, fragments of ice could be launched from the blades when the turbine is started, or may even fall off prior to start-up (1).

One other negative aspect is that there are very few precedents for wind farms in urban areas and established guidelines for rural wind farms may need to be revised for an urban/suburban setting. Local setback requirements will have to address the local concerns of public health and safety, and future plans for the sites (1).

Websites:
National Wind Coordinating Committee
American Wind Energy AssociationFact Sheet


ELECTROMAGNETIC INTERFERENCE (Radio/TV reception effects)

Positive Aspects: The location of wind farms has to be free of important communication broadcast lines including military communication facilities and air traffic communications. Having local relay stations or using cables for the surrounding affected areas can maintain radio and TV broadcasts.

Negative Aspects: Wind turbines are known to scatter radio waves, TV waves, and microwaves broadcasted over the area. The problems associated with electromagnetic interference are largely solved through improved technology. However, for older model turbines there may be problems with aviation and communication interference. Any older style turbine used must be retrofitted to comply with FAA and FCC standards.

Websites:
American Wind Energy AssociationFact Sheet


SHADOW FLICKER

Shadow flicker occurs when the rotating blades temporarily block the sun and casts a shadow over a narrow opening such as a window or door in a structure causing a strobe effect in the room. Proper planning and placement of the turbines can eliminate this effect.

This problem is disturbing to one’s eyes and can be a minor distraction.

Websites:
American Wind Energy Association – Fact Sheet
National Wind Coordinating Committee


NOISE

The mechanical noise is generally tonal in quality and is controlled by better design and dampeners. In comparison to other sources of noise, wind turbines are fairly quiet, just above the noise levels in residential areas. If a wind farm was installed in Lake Erie (i.e., outer harbor), noise levels as experienced from Route 5 would most likely be higher than the noise of the turbines. Noise levels can further be dampened by landscape elements such as trees and other natural absorbers placed strategically around nearby areas.

Negative Aspects: The aerodynamic noise, generated by the wind blowing across the blades, is dependant on the wind speed and increases as the wind velocity picks up. The cumulative effect maybe a nuisance. Therefore, the noise created by the operation of turbines should not add more than fifty-five decibels to the existing ambient noise levels. Furthermore, decibel levels should be measured from the 500 foot minimum structure setback.


EFFECTS ON SURROUNDING LAND USE

Positive Aspects: The turbines would be laid out in such a way that they would accommodate public assess in and around the turbines with recreation ways (bike paths, nature trails, recreational areas) that connect them along a proposed “Windway Trail”. A wind power development on the Outer Harbor would allow for the future development of light industry in a proposed “Green Business Park”.

A commitment to build a wind farm on the Lake Erie waterfront would offer opportunities to potentially reclaim brownfield areas. Development along waterfront areas has been a popular and effective way for many cities around the world to improve their economies through recreation, tourism, housing and retail development.

Negative Aspects: In order to prevent buildings from interfering with the functionality of the turbine (known as “wind shade”), buildings must be located down wind from the turbine a distance of two times the height of the building.

Websites
National Wind Coordinating Committee
American Wind Energy AssociationFact Sheet


Wind Farms Located Off Shore

Positive Aspects: The Western New York area has great potential for wind farms to be constructed in Lake Erie. Two potential offshore sites include the Buffalo Offshore site and the Bethlehem Offshore site. The Buffalo Offshore site, covers approximately 2.25 sq. miles and it is located outside of the breakwater. There are two shipping lanes that enter the Buffalo Harbor at the north and south ends of the site. Except for the Small Boat Harbor, a wind farm would cause no land use obstructions. The Bethlehem Offshore site is 1.75 sq. miles and is located off the Bethlehem Steel site. These two offshore sites were chosen due to favorable wind conditions and shallow waterdepths (1)

There are notable advantages of having offshore wind turbines. Wind speeds offshore average 20% greater than onshore wind speeds and the wind is less turbulent. This will result in higher energy production from the installed turbines and will increase the life span of turbines by 25 years. Typical onshore turbines have 30-year life spans compared to a 55-year life span for offshore turbines. Offshore development has greater potential for energy production and the conditions of Lake Erie are favorable, as the lake is relatively shallow (1)

Negative Aspects: Despite the advantages, there are preliminary limiting factors that may constrain the build-out in these areas are navigational concerns (existing shipping lanes make up the boundaries of these two areas), and expense compared to building an onshore wind farm. Additionally, offshore installations may interfere with bird migration patterns, fish breeding zones, and fisherman access to traditional fishing spots. Marine habitats may be disturbed during construction (1).

Another major issue includes the acquisition of rights to build in the water, which falls under the jurisdiction of New York State. The depth to bedrock from median lake level will need to be determined at each specific point offshore. Other concerns include ice flows causing damage to turbine base structures, maintenance difficulties due to remoteness, and unfavorable lake conditions, including harsh weather conditions. Impaired accessibility offshore will result in additional costs for construction and maintenance, and an increase for potential impact to seabed communities (1).

Websites:
Defenders of Wildlife National Wind Coordinating Committee
Western Ecosystems Technology They have designed wildlife monitoring protocols for wind power projects.
American Wind Energy AssociationFact Sheet
Greenpeace Denmark


ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW (SEQR)

The Legal Committee is Exploring SEQR Issues for the Wind Action Group

Websites:

National Wind Coordinating Committee – Wind Energy Series-Wind Energy
American Wind Energy Association
Fact Sheet
Naval Air Station at Whidbey Island


WIND FARMS LOCATED ON LAND

Positive Aspects: The effects on the land itself are minimal and also present major benefits as compared to other forms of power generation. The physical footprint of wind turbines on a wind farm are minimal and impacts to the surrounding land should be thoroughly investigated. Wind turbines have no effect on the local water supply and require no additional fuel to sustain the flow of energy. Additionally, wind energy may be sustained in perpetuity and will never expire like fossil fuel reserves. Moreover, there is no pollution and unlike the mining of coal, land disturbance is negligible.

Negative Aspects: In rural areas, habitat destruction for grassland species can be of concern. In an urban setting, zoning restrictions and safety {particularly icing) are issues that would need to be addressed. Consistency with any planning documents would be required.

Websites:

National Wind Coordinating Committee
American Wind Energy AssociationFact Sheet


ZONING (Special Use)

City of Buffalo Charter: www.ci.buffalo.ny.us/document_544.html)

WEBSITES:
Electric Power Research Institue
In the Renewables & Hydroelectric section under their Power Generation Menu, they have several resources on wind energy.

References

  1. Ahmad, Thaer Haj, et al. Wind Energy Initiatives for Greater Buffalo. Masters of Urban Planning, December 2001 Workshop. University at Buffalo, 2001: pp. 19-21, 43-46, 61-66.
  2. McPherson, Ryan Andrew. Tilting at Wind Turbines: Environmental Issues Associated with Wind Farms. University at Buffalo, Environmental Law Clinic, 2001-2002.
  3. Curry and Kerlinger. Consultants to the Wind Power Industry on birds and other wildlife issues. Mar. 2002. 28 Mar. 2005.http://www.currykerlinger.com/studies.htm
  4. Gipe, Paul. Wind Power: Renewable Energy for Home, Farm, and Business. White River Junction, VT: 2004.
  5. American Wind Energy Association
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