A feature article in the fall issue of The Nature Conservancy’s magazine takes a close look at the rapid expansion of the wind industry in America’s prairie heartland. The rolling hills of Kansas are a prime wind energy corridor, and TNC is concerned that the remnants of tallgrass prairie habitats could be irrevocably harmed if new wind farm development is not done carefully. Rob Manes, TNC’s Director of Conservation for Kansas, sits on the Fish and Wildlife Service advisory committee that is developing wind farm siting guidelines, where he has proposed that key habitat be identified in advance, so that wind companies can plan around it. Such landscape-scale analysis is already being done by some wind companies, and Manes urged the committee to recommend that the practice become standard procedure. Manes imagines an ever-expanding regional database that would not only would provide maps of important environmental data, such as critical habitat for endangered species, but also would designate wind-friendly areas where turbines and wildlife are less likely to be in conflict. (This idea is closely related to Marine Spatial Planning, as addressed in this recent AEInews post.)
From the TNC article: Manes is certain that a national set of detailed maps overlapping wind and wildlife resources is crucial to “doing wind power right.” That is because the Conservancy and its partners have already implemented a system of maps in Kansas. And local developers have responded enthusiastically. Horizon Wind Energy even worked with the Conservancy and the Ranchland Trust of Kansas to set aside protected lands to offset the footprint of one of its wind-farm developments. “Our contacts in the wind industry said, Show us where we can develop our projects — so we did,” Manes says. The map shows the state’s native prairies, prairie chicken habitat, wildlife refuges and nature preserves, as well as where the best wind resources are. Now, when a wind developer wants to build in Kansas, the company knows which sites are likely to raise the ire of conservationists — and which areas aren’t.
The Conservancy has created similar maps in a handful of other states, including Colorado, Montana and Oklahoma. And in mid-2009, the Conservancy was awarded a contract to create a wind and wildlife resource map for the entire country. The map initiative is funded by the American Wind and Wildlife Institute, a coalition of wind-industry and conservation organizations with the aim of reducing conflicts between wind development and wildlife.
UPDATE: In the UK, the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds, along with Scottish Natural Heritage, has initiated a similar project, centered on the production of a Bird Sensitivity Map for use in planning wind farms in Scotland. See this link for more information on the program, and click here to download the BSPB Bird Sensitivity Map Report. Scottish Heritage previously released “Strategic Locational Guidance” for onshore wind farms.