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Tuesday, 12 June 2007 20:25

National Research Council recommends wind farm guidelines

According to a May 3, 2007 report by the National Research Council (NRC), the federal government should develop national guidelines to maximize the benefits and minimize the hazards of wind farms.

Such federal guidelines, according to the NRC, would help guide local and regional governments in devising wind-energy projects that take into consideration their effects on wildlife, the environment, and scenic landscapes, along with devising guidelines to develop the most effective devices to produce electrical energy.

The NRC is a branch of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Sciences organized the National Research Council in 1916. The NRC helps to coordinate science and technology projects, along with the Academy's purposes of advising the federal government with respect to science, technology, and health policies.

In 2006, wind power generates under 1% of the electrical energy used in the United States. However, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) estimates that the percentage could increase to a maximum of 7% within fifteen years. In fact, wind power capacity has quadrupled between 2001 and 2006, becoming one of the fastest growing alternative energy sources to fossil-fuels.

The report by the NRC committee states that wind energy could reduce, by 2020, about 4.5% of the U.S. atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide from the generation of electricity.

However, in doing so, wind energy could potentially harm bird (especially raptors) and bat populations. Because the association between wind farms (specifically, the turning of the turbine blades) and death to bat and bird populations (from flying into the turbine blades) has not been clearly established, the NRC committee recommends additional research into the potential problem.

In addition, the committee recommends that wildlife-impact studies be performed on areas involving wind farms. The members suggested that wind farms be located away from major migratory routes and habitats that attract birds of prey (raptors).

Currently, 36 states possess wind turbine machines for the generation of wind power, but only one state (California) has instituted state guidelines to reduce environmental impacts of these wind farms.

Bird advocacy groups support wind power, in general, seeing it as a way to reduce global warming—which they consider to be a much larger threat to birds than the wind turbine issues with flying birds. One representative of a bird advocacy group stated that over one million birds could be killed each year (by the year 2030) by wind turbines if federal guidelines are not established.

[Note by author: Whether this estimate is accurate or not, it seems prudent to, at least, look into the possibility of establishing federal guidelines and to, definitely, perform additional research to access the benefits and hazards of wind power.]

The members of the NPC committee consisted of experts from the academic, public, and private sectors of the United States. Dr. Paul G. Risser (chairperson of the University of Oklahoma’s Research Cabinet, which coordinates research planning on the three UO campuses) headed the NPC committee. Dr. Risser is also acting director of the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., USA).


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