By: Andrea Sears
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Conservationists say the push to expand clean, renewable energy sources is a top priority, but it needs to be done in a way that protects wildlife.
There are now 27 wind farms in Pennsylvania, generating enough electricity to power almost 350,000 homes, and more are on the way.
Jim Murphy, legal advocacy director at The National Wildlife Federation, says the switch to renewable energy is critical to combat climate change that threatens all life on the planet, but planners should locate onshore wind farms primarily in developed areas such as agricultural land and avoid wilderness that provides habitat for wildlife.
“You want to avoid flyways, areas where you get a lot of animal movement, particularly birds and bats, and then you want to make sure that siting doesn’t unnecessarily fragment habitat,” he explains.
Murphy adds that operational and technological advances now make it possible to reduce the risks to species such as eagles and bats that may be at risk of flying into wind turbines.
Atlantic coastal waters may soon be home to massive, offshore wind farms. Murphy notes they too can pose a risk to birds, sea turtles and marine mammals, but offshore wind farms also have proven to benefit some aquatic life by forming artificial reefs.
“The Block Island wind operation, just in the couple of years it’s been on line, has attracted a lot of wildlife,” he points out. “It’s a great fishing ground already. It’s already serving as a habitat structure.”
Murphy says siting wind farms far from shore can minimize the impact on birds.
While clashes between environmentalists and the fossil fuel industry have been difficult and often dramatic, Murphy has found the developers of renewable energy to be receptive to concerns about its potential impact.
“By and large, from the industry to the state regulators to the federal regulators, concerns about wildlife rise to the top, and there’s generally a desire to do something to ensure that wildlife is protected,” he states.
In 2017 there were approximately 54,000 land-based wind turbines in use in the United States, generating enough power for 27 million homes.