Even for organizations staying ahead of the curve, and transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, there are still plenty of repercussions for companies that are not conducting their due diligence and reducing harmful ecological impacts.
Environmental Impact and Concerns of Wind Turbines
There are now 77 endangered and critically endangered bats on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species. Wind turbines have effects on most bird species, particularly raptor species, such as bald eagles, hawks and owls. Collisions with wind turbines are now reported as one of the leading causes of fatalities amongst nocturnal birds and bats. With the increase in offshore wind farms, the long-term impacts on marine wildlife have yet to be completely assessed. During new construction of wind power sites, local ecosystems will experience short-term disruption to their habit, but most additional environmental impacts are primarily aesthetic and social to humans. While implications affecting humans are not as severe, visual and social impacts, such as noise, electromagnetic interference and shadow flicker need to be addressed.
Wind Energy Guidelines & Policies
While the positive impacts of wind energy reign far superior, the negative implications have resulted in a couple critical policies that organizations need to address. Many of the current “regulations” in the United States are loose policies and guidelines for which wind energy companies need to comply. In part, this is because the regulation of wind energy is still relatively new. The U.S. is still in the early stages of learning how to regulate wind energy. Though, this should not be taken lightly. The negative implications of bad press surrounding poor business practices and negligent oversight of environmental compliance can cripple business success.
Currently, there are a mix of regulations, policy and guidelines that EHS professionals must remain aware of surrounding wind energy. This mix is delivered by both governmental and non-governmental agencies. Here’s a look at the agencies, committees and policies surrounding wind turbines and wind energy.
1) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines provides guidance on complying with the Endangered Species Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
2) FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) – Obstruction Lighting Guidelines reviews all structures higher than 200 feet or taller for compliance with aviation safety requirements, such as lighting obstruction and disturbances.
3) The NWCC (National Wind Coordinating Committee) – NWCC has set guidelines for new wind farm construction to ensure checks and balances over the social and ecological impacts. These guidelines are typically carried through at the states’ discretion.
4) BLM (Bureau of Land Management) – Under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act 1969), federal land owners must prepare an environmental assessment that requires federal agencies to prepare an environmental assessment of significant anticipated impacts and include public involvement to address socioeconomic impacts.
5) USFS (U.S. Forest Service) & BLM (Bureau of Land Management) – USFS encourages the wind energy industry to conduct scientific research to provide additional information on the impacts of wind-energy development on wildlife, as well as look for opportunities to promote bird and wildlife conservation.
6) State & Regional Guidance – Many local and regional governments have set their own guidelines to ensure organizations are protecting all scenic resources, as well as recreation destinations through the Forest Service.
How EHS Professionals Can Protect Their Organization
Apart from the FAA guidelines, the enforcement of federal laws protecting birds and bats is the biggest threat to wind energy companies. EHS professionals using compliance and management system solutions can reap significant rewards by proactively addressing USFWS guidelines.
Iberdrola is one of the largest renewable energy producers in the world. In 2016 they began using Gensuite’s incident management application to support their large-scale wind energy sites, recording specific concerns regarding the local ecosystem. Gensuite developed a mobile-enabled software solution for adhering to Iberdrola’s Avian and Bat Protection Plan through the Incidents & Measurements application. The solution allowed for in-the-field recording and reporting using mobile offline capabilities. This feature provided data logging support in remote wind farm locations, regardless of connectivity. Iberdrola was able to identify risks and assign corrective actions through the Gensuite Action Tracking System to ensure their wind turbines were meeting current guidelines. By utilizing a best-in-class mobile EHS applications, organizations can obtain a more comprehensive view on how they’re protecting birds, bats and ultimately – their organizations.