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Turbines to Pinwheels - Could Painted Wind Turbine Blades Reduce Avian Deaths?

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For some Michigan residents, wind turbines are fairly common, especially for those in the Mid-Michigan/Thumb area. Renewable wind-energy definitely has its perks: it is cheaper than burning fossil fuels and has a low carbon footprint. But one of the biggest challenges for wind farm owners is reducing the threat to avian populations.

Depending on the species of birds, statutory penalties associated with avian deaths can be severe. Owners and operators of wind farms take mitigating measures to reduce these deaths, but even with these measures, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that bird deaths due to turbine collisions range between 140,000 and 500,000 every year. The Department of Energy's mandate on increasing wind energy capacity is causing researchers to anticipate those yearly deaths increasing to 1.4 million deaths a year.

Why is it that so many birds collide with turbine blades, and what can be done about it?

Birds generally have limited ability to see obstructions while in flight, so scientists have suggested introducing visual identifiers - like colored fan blades - to increase a bird's chances of spotting the rotating blade. In a controlled study conducted by the Smøla Wind Farm in Norway, one blade on each of four turbines that had recorded bird deaths were "contrast painted" (i.e., painted black). Another four turbines (also with recorded bird deaths in the previous years) were utilized as a control group. Over a three-year period, the study found a 71.9% reduction in the annual fatality rate of birds attributable to the contrast painting.

Like any study, the duration and small sample size limit its conclusiveness, but imagine if wind turbine bird deaths could be significantly reduced just by adding some color to the turbine blades. Would you be interesting in living near a wind farm if they were more colorful?

Andrea Hayden concentrates her practice in matters related to infrastructure, energy, and environmental law. When she is not working, Ms. Hayden enjoys birdwatching with her two younger children. If you are in need of an experienced attorney practicing in Energy and Environmental Law, Contact Andrea Hayden! Ms. Hayden can be reached by email or by phone at (248) 380-0000.

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