Study finds Wind Farms do not cause long-term damage to bird populations

Last week a new report was published, here, which revealed that the impact of wind farms on bird populations may have been overstated. The study, published in the April edition of the Journal of Applied Ecology, was the first of its kind in that it monitored bird populations over three different periods; before during and after wind farm construction.

The study was carried out by a team of four naturalists and ornithologists from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Scottish Natural Heritage, and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). 10 bird species were monitored across 18 different wind farm sites. The density of breeding birds and more general population trends were observed. The findings of the study were somewhat surprising as they indicated that the impact of an operational wind farm on bird populations was fairly minimal. Rather it was during the construction process that bird population levels were affected.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s UK conservation director commented: “It shows that there can be a serious species-level impacts in the construction phase, so construction in the right place is absolutely key. But what it hasn’t shown is that wind farms are ‘bird blenders’. There is no impact from the turning of the blades.”

James Pearce-Higgins, lead author of the study and principal ecologist with the BTO: stated: “It was a bit of a surprise that the impact on wind farms seemed to be happening during construction rather than operation .

“It means we should look at ways in which these negative impacts can be minimised. The next step will be to find out whether those steps are effective.”

It is interesting to note that there were huge variations in how different species of bird were impacted by wind farms.

For example, red grouse, snipe, and curlew population levels all fell during construction. Red Grouse levels did, however, recover after construction was completed and the wind farms became operational. Other species such as the meadow pipit, golden plover, wheater, whinchat, dunlin, and the lapwing showed “either no change or less certain reactions’ to the construction and operation of wind farms. Some species, such as the skylark and stonechat, even “flourished” during construction. The varied impact of wind farm construction and operation on different species belies as the media myth that wind turbines are having a hugely negative impact on bird population levels. Other studies have produced similar results such as that carried out on a Dutch offshore wind farm which revealed that offshore wind can help to actually increase populations.

Rob Norris, spokesman for RenewableUK released the following statement welcoming the study’s findings: “Wind farm developers firmly believe that taking every possible step to protect birds is extremely important.

“That’s why they carry out stringent Environmental Impact Assessments to examine the effects a wind turbine will have on wildlife.

“This new study shows that once wind farms are up and running, they don’t have any significant impact on the local bird population. So this report should dispel the longstanding myth about wind turbines damaging birds, and as such it’s very welcome.”

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables was equally welcoming:

“We hope this will go a long way in addressing inflammatory statements made by anti-wind farm campaigners. Onshore wind farm developers in Scotland have to complete rigorous environmental impact assessments which may include bird surveys which are then taken into consideration by the local planning authority.

“The wind industry will continue to work closely with statutory consultees including Scottish Natural Heritage to minimise the impact of habitats of animals and birds as we work to ensure the right balance between developing renewable energy projects and protecting our natural environment is met.”

The results of this study demonstrate that the impact of wind turbines on bird population levels has been overstated; particularly when the rigorous environmental assessments required for such developments is taken into account.

 

Good News for Scottish Renewables Industry

There was much good news for the Scottish Renewables Industry this week; not only was it revealed that Scotland’s interim renewable energy generation target has been surpassed but also a report was published which revealed the impact the fledgling industry is having on the country’s employment levels.

The Scottish Government had set a target for 31% of the country’s electric energy demand to be met by renewables by this year; currently renewables are providing 35% of the electricity used in the country. The 35% figure has been achieved by an increase in installed capacity in a variety of renewable technologies. For instance, in 2011 there was 7049 GWh (Giga-watt hours) of electricity produced from wind turbines. This was an increase of 45% from 2010 and more than double the amount generated from wind in 2007.

Hydro-electricity also saw it’s best ever year for electricity generation; producing 5310 GWh of energy. This was an increase of 62.6% from 2010 although it should be noted that 2010 was a year of comparatively low rain fall. However it was still an increase of 8.9% compared to 2009 levels; 2009 was hydro-electricity’s previous best year.

The news that the interim generation target had been surpassed was greeted with much enthusiasm. Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing remarked:

“It’s official – 2011 was a record breaker, with enough green electricity being produced in Scotland to comfortably beat our interim target. And Scotland met almost 40% of the UK’s renewable output in 2011, demonstrating how much the rest of the UK needs our energy. We are seeing great progress towards our goal of generating the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s electricity needs from renewables by 2020.

“Projects representing £750 million of investment were switched on in 2011, with an investment pipeline of £46 billion. And since the turn of the year, we have seen Gamesa invest in Leith creating over 800 new jobs, the Green Investment Bank being head-quartered in Edinburgh and Samsung Heavy Industries announcing it will base its £100 million European offshore wind project in Methil, creating up to 500 jobs.

“Alongside securing those major developments, we have taken real steps to ensure that communities all over Scotland will benefit from the renewable energy generated in their area.

“Scotland is a genuine world leader in green energy and our targets reflect the scale of our natural resources, the strength of our energy capabilities and the value we place on creating new, sustainable industries.”

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables:

“This is a fantastic achievement for our industry and for Scotland.

“When the interim target of 31 per cent was set it was seen as ambitious but yet again the renewables sector in Scotland has grown further and faster than predicted, achieving 35 per cent, and that’s why we are confident we can meet the 2020 target.

“These figures are further proof that this industry is a major part of our energy sector. As well as supporting 11,000 jobs in Scotland and helping attract massive investment, renewable energy is now delivering more than a third of the electricity consumed by Scottish households and businesses.

“Renewables is now a major part of our energy mix and a major part of our economy, and the sector is making a key contribution to the fight on climate change. Last year the sector displaced over 5 million tonnes of CO2 – around 10 per cent of Scotland’s total carbon emissions.

“There are many challenges ahead if we are to keep growing. Government must continue to focus on delivering grid connections, getting the right balance in the planning system, and supporting investment in clean energy. By doing so we will make further progress in cutting emissions and securing more jobs for the future.

Stan Blackley, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland: “Our research has shown that, with some modest investment in energy efficiency  and demand reduction, Scotland could produce 130% of its electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020 and 180% by 2030. In doing so we could ensure a reliable supply of clean electricity and phase out Scotland’s thermal power stations.”

In other news, Scottish Renewables released a report detailing the number of jobs that the Scottish Renewables industry is currently supporting.

In total there are around 11,000 people in Scotland employed in jobs supporting the renewables industry. The majority of these jobs are in the direct supply chain; 8701 to be exact. 1526 people are directly employed in renewable energy development and a further 909 people are employed in academia and the wider public sector. When broken down by sector onshore wind is the largest employer with 2235 employees; 943 are employed in offshore wind, and 1410 are employed in bioenergy. A further 3223 are employed in the National Grid and it’s supply chain.

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables issued the following statement to accompany the report:

“The report shows that renewables are not only a major part of our energy mix, they are now a major part of our economy and our daily working lives, supporting more than 11,000 jobs across Scotland.

“The report also highlights that for every job in renewable energy development, there are around six more in the direct supply chain.

“These numbers are actually just the tip of the iceberg, with many thousands more employees supported indirectly by the growth of the renewables sector which have not been captured by this study.

“Renewable energy development is bringing in much needed investment to the wider economy, which is providing opportunities for businesses and people from a wide range of sectors; whether it be electricians, tradesmen and skippers of work boats, or lawyers, consultants, civil engineers and architects.

“These jobs are spread throughout the country, in both urban and rural areas: Glasgow, Fife and Edinburgh are already established as important centres for offshore wind development; Aberdeen is a major centre for offshore engineering; the Highlands and Islands are leading the development of the emerging wave and tidal sector; and bioenergy is providing jobs across rural Scotland from Lochaber to Morayshire to Dumfries and Galloway.

“A clear pattern emerges from speaking to employers that these numbers are expected to grow over the year ahead and beyond, as the relatively new industry continues to expand. Gamesa’s decision last week to come to Leith reinforces the scale of this opportunity.

“As a growth sector, it also offers new opportunities for the existing workforce and business base in parts of the economy which have been hit by the downturn.

“With continued political support, the right market framework, the right balance in the planning system, and investment in grid and ports and harbour infrastucture, we will ensure the creation of many thousands more jobs in this exciting sector.”

The announcements made this week demonstrate the great strides being made by the Scottish Renewables industry in terms of attracting investment, creating jobs and generating ever greater amounts of electricity.