Up to half of all bird species are threatened by climate change. Replacing fossil fuels with wind is a key solution. Wind is estimated to be 35 times safer for birdlife than fossil fuels; replacing them with wind would save 70 million birds per year worldwide.
Download the PDF factsheet here.
Comparison with other energy sources
The impact of human activities on wildlife is widespread, especially from energy production. Wind power can save wildlife and birds as it displaces environment-damaging fossil fuels from the energy grid.
A 2013 study estimated that the full life cycle of fossil fuel energy production - from resource extraction, plant operation, acid rain, mercury pollution, and climate change - resulted in an average of 9.36 avian fatalities per GWh (Gigawatt hour).
Wind energy is estimated to be 35 times safer for birdlife than fossil fuel energy, at only 0.27 avian fatalities per GWh - through avian collisions with turbines.1 Another earlier study in 2009 estimated wind energy to be 15 times safer than fossil fuels. Both studies found wind energy to be safer than nuclear.
For every 1 bird killed by a wind turbine, nuclear and fossil fuel-powered plants killed 2,118 birds, it was found in this study. Extrapolating from these numbers, replacing all fossil fuel energy with wind power would save 70 million birds per year worldwide. The large amount of fatalities from fossil fuels is mostly from climate change which alters weather patterns and destroys habitats which birds rely on.
Many animals and plants, including birds, are at risk from climate change. A 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded that we have just 12 years to limit climate catastrophe - otherwise we risk extreme heat, drought, floods & poverty.
There are now one million of the world’s species at risk of extinction due to the global ecological crisis.
A 2013 study in the UK found that up to half of all birds are threatened by climate change. “Species were classed as highly vulnerable if their local climate is changing rapidly, they are sensitive to these changes, and have little ability to adapt or relocate.” The results placed 24 to 50 per cent of species as highly vulnerable to climate change.
These alarming studies show the urgent need to shift our energy reliance from fossil fuels which damage our climate and harm birdlife, to low-carbon alternatives like wind energy.
Other impacts on bird populations
The scrutiny placed upon wind projects and their impacts on bird populations is important but must be considered in the context of other human activities and their impacts on birdlife.
Fossil fuels, cars, cats and even windows prove to be of far more concern for bird populations. Below is a broad set of data from America, where cats and windows completely dwarf the impact of wind turbines. For everyone 1 avian death from wind turbines, cats kill 6,600.
Annual human-caused bird deaths (billions)
Similar to the American figures, fatalities by cats are the largest problem for bird populations. In Australia cats kill 316 million birds a year - 61 million of those are killed by pet cats.
Bird conservation group perspectives
Bird conservation groups around the world recognise the pressing threat of climate change to birds, and the need to pursue renewable energy alternatives like wind energy.
The UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has recognised the impact of climate change on birds. They have built a wind turbine at their headquarters and acknowledge the significant role wind power has to play in the fight against climate change.
The American Bird Conservancy similarly support wind energy over fossil fuels: “Properly sited wind turbines are relatively bird-friendly, especially when compared to fossil fuels.”
In Australia, Birdlife Australia has a similar policy and has committed to zero emissions. All of these groups acknowledge the need to assess any significant risk to birds and wildlife in the placement of wind farms.
Mitigation and legislation to protect birds & bats
In Australia there are stringent processes to address and mitigate risks to birds & bats, mandated by multiple pieces of legislation and several government bodies. Many wind turbine projects take several years to complete the gamut of approval processes.
At a state level there is the:
- Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, and the
- Environment Effects Act 1978.
At a federal level, projects must pass the:
- Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act).
Scientists and consultants spend countless hours assessing proposed turbine sites, identifying the species and their flight paths within risk zones.
Planning approval is subject to the number and species of birds/bats at risk. Once operating, wind energy companies must demonstrate that their predictive models demonstrate the real impact, and continue managing and monitoring the impact on birds and bats.
For a wind project, before a shovel can hit the ground, companies need a bird and bat management plan approved by the planning minister. This might contain conditions such as a threshold of what is an acceptable number of bird or bat deaths. Flora and fauna surveys conducted before and after construction independently monitor any impacts on birds and bats.
This process works effectively to protect important populations of birds and bats. For example, the Yaloak south wind farm in Victoria was forced to change their original plans and build fewer wind turbines to reduce their impact on Wedge Tailed Eagles.
Alongside this monitoring and mitigation, the wind industry is planning other conservation efforts to ensure the wind industry has a net positive impact on avian populations.
There are many ways to improve safety for birds & bats when building wind turbines, but the main decider is where wind turbines are built, and ensuring that they are outside of important migratory routes and flight paths of birds.
Outside of better siting, different companies are working on interesting technological solutions. Birds of prey (raptors) and bats are low reproductive species, so finding ways to protect them from wind turbines is important.
Research is also being done into changing the colour of turbines and designing new turbine shapes. Earlier designs used to attract roosting birds to roost in their structures, but newer designs discourage this dangerous roosting.
Goldwind Australia have piloted using optical technology to detect different birds - endangered species, raptors and bats - and shutting down specific turbines until they pass.
Some wind companies have been using ultrasonic acoustics - which emits high-frequency sounds in-audible to humans, but confusing enough for bats’ echolocation to the point they avoid the area entirely.
 Benjamin K. Sovacool (2012): The avian and wildlife costs of fossil fuels and nuclear power, Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences, 9:4, 255-278
 Wind farms are hardly the bird slayers they’re made out to be. Here’s why, The Conversation, 16 June 2017
 Want to save 70 million birds a year? Build more wind farms, Renew Economy, 10 August 2012
 We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN, The Guardian, 8 October 2018
 One million species at risk of extinction, UN report warns, and we are mostly to blame, ABC, 7 May 2019
 Up to half of all birds threatened by climate change, New Scientist, 13 June 2013
 Stop the Spin: Turbines Less Deadly Than Fossil Fuels, Ecori News, 22 January 2018
 Fact-checking Zinke’s claim that wind turbines kill 750,000 birds a year, Axios, 7 March 2018
 Cats kill 1 million Australian birds a day, study shows, The Guardian, 4 October 2017
 For the birds (and the bats): 8 ways wind power companies are trying to prevent deadly collisions, Grist, 3 Jan 20
In a massive step in the transition to renewables, the Australian Energy Regulator yesterday approved Project EnergyConnect, a vital 900-kilometre transmission line between South Australia and New South Wales to be built by ElectraNet and TransGrid.
It will be the biggest new transmission network investment in 30 years.
This announcement is a significant win for our climate. People don’t often think about wind and solar power when they see transmission lines, but that's exactly what this massive new project will be transporting.
One of the biggest challenges we face in the transition to renewables is how to connect all the new sources of energy to the grid over such a vast Australian landscape, and to do it quickly enough to keep up with the demand for clean energy.
EnergyConnect will unlock 1,800 MW of renewable energy generation across Renewable Energy Zones, including approximately 800 MW in SA, 400 MW in NSW and 600 MW in Victoria, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).
Regional communities will benefit from the jobs created by the project. The development of this additional renewable energy capacity is expected to unlock some 950 jobs across the region. In addition, up to 1,700 jobs will be created during construction.
People in NSW and SA will save money once the transmission line is operating. Power bills will rise initially to support the cost of construction, then fall by an estimated $64 in NSW and $100 in SA annually once new renewable projects are connected via the new line.
Construction is set to begin later this year.
This transmission project is one of a handful of large new power lines identified by the AEMO as key to switching over to renewables.
We are working with transmission companies, regulators and government agencies to ensure regional communities impacted by this critical build will benefit from the project.
If you want to discuss project impacts with us, get in touch.
On Friday the Energy Security Board announced new Rules to encourage greater local participation in transmission planning.
Building new transmission lines is a critical step to securing the transition to renewables.
The new power lines will connect Renewable Energy Zones with lots of wind and solar projects across a region to the national grid.
Consulting local communities thoroughly and allowing them to participate in choosing the best route is essential to the development of these lines.
These changes will ensure that for future large-scale transmission lines, communities are consulted much earlier in the process, avoiding backlash which can otherwise occur.
Energy Security Board Chair, Dr Kerry Schott says “A key objective of the new rules is to get transmission planners to engage with local communities earlier so that local issues can be understood earlier in the planning process”.
This is fantastic news for communities in proposed renewable energy zones.
The changes to the rules will enable greater stakeholder consultation earlier in the transmission line planning process.
In line with recommendations RE-Alliance has previously made to this consultation process, future Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) plans may now mandate early stakeholder engagement and environmental assessment for future projects.
This means that in new Renewable Energy Zones, community consultation and preliminary assessment of environmental and planning approvals is able to occur much earlier in the planning process than was previously the case.
The AEMO is due to release it's next Integrated Systems Plan in July 2022.
Read more here
The past two years of wind industry development have been nothing short of a boom.
Wind farm jobs have tripled, the funds which wind farms contribute to host-communities has more than doubled, and wind energy is poised to soon overtake brown coal in energy generation.
AWA's second edition report, Building Stronger Communities: Wind’s growing role in regional Australia tracks this boom and looks at the many ways wind farms are connecting with communities through benefit sharing. Making sure the benefits of wind farms stay local means wind energy can strengthen communities and make a positive contribution to the social fabric of rural and regional Australia.Read more
Recently, I went to the Latrobe Valley to learn more about an exciting new wind farm project and meet with community members and leaders.
The Delburn Wind Farm will feature 35 wind turbines built on pine plantation, overlooking the old site of the Hazelwood power station. We wrote about it when the project was first announced highlighting the benefit sharing.
The $340 million project will power 125,000 homes with clean energy and contribute a total of $1 million a year to the councils, neighbours and local community in the Valley.
The developer, OSMI Energy, has been heavily engaging with the community early in the project’s life. Based on early feedback they have reduced the number of wind turbines to 35, down from the originally proposed 53 turbines.
Community looking forward to clean energy and community benefits
Here's what some of the locals had to say to me.
Marg Thomas a local resident of Mirboo North is hopeful about what the project offers to the community: “We’re in an energy transition. We need to respectfully discuss the future of our community and look to the bigger picture. Part of that picture is renewable energy projects like the Delburn Wind Farm. It’s critical that we have genuine meeting of minds on this so the best outcome can be reached for our community.”
Chris Barfoot, a local from Morwell and a Project Officer at Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub is impressed by the engagement so far: "I would like to congratulate OSMI on their approach to community engagement. They are listening to the community and refining the design, they are committed to providing community benefit and for the first time in this region offering community investment. This really shows the way forward for developments into the future."
Trevor Hoare from the Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group and local resident from Boolarra South, who will live 10 km from the nearest turbine, sees wind energy as a positive: “I want to stop the impacts of climate change on my grandkids," he said after a visit to Bald Hills wind farm organised by OSMI, “the visit confirmed for me that wind turbines turning lazily in the distance are an attractive addition to what is an agricultural industrial landscape.”
Lorraine Bull, from the Gippsland Climate Change Network and a resident of Morwell who will be able to see the wind farm from her house said she is very happy to be able to see new energy from her front veranda.
"I used to see Hazelwood’s pollution from my house and am looking forward to wind turbines instead.”
Lorraine outlined why the project is so important for the region.
“Latrobe Valley is about to join the renewable energy revolution. Most exciting is the Delburn Wind Farm proposal, overlooking the now-defunct Hazelwood Power Station and smaller Morwell Power Station.”
“Essential electricity production in Latrobe Valley is moving on from polluting coal to clean wind power, a few solar farms at various stages, and maybe even pumped hydro, bioenergy or geothermal. It's certain that we need to build new generation before the aging power stations close, as well as create jobs and training for transition.
“Delburn Wind Farm is innovative by being located in HVP plantations, and OSMI offer investment opportunity and community benefit.”
Local groups rally behind wind project and regional investment
Several local groups have voiced their support for this project. Cath Thompson, a local from Boolarra and part of the new group advocating for wind energy in Latrobe Valley - the Strzelecki Sustainable Futures is enthused by the project:
"The community benefits of this 25-year project (Delburn Wind Farm) present an enormous opportunity for investment in our region's economic sustainability and growth."
"The project has had some early support but also some early detractors. Many of the issues which people are concerned about are explained by the wind company or by scientific, peer-reviewed sources."
I was impressed with this project. Its location, sizeable investment and range of jobs for the community, the depth of community engagement by the developer and the community benefits scheme all contribute to making a great project.
During the visit I met with community members as well as community leaders from Yinnar & District Community Association, Mirboo North Community Energy Hub, Mirboo North and District Community Foundation, Boolarra Community Development Group, Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group and OSMI. I've also held discussions with the mayor of Latrobe City Council Cr Graeme Middlemiss and Baw Baw Shire Council Mayor Mikaela Power and others to get an understanding of the project thus far.
Bald Hills wind farm visit shows locals the potential for Latrobe Valley
A highlight of the trip was a visit organised by OSMI to an operational wind farm. This trip brought community members from Yinnar, Mirboo North and further afield to see a wind farm in action. It was a good opportunity for community members and neighbours to the proposed Delburn wind farm to ask questions.
Peter Marriott from OSMI answered many questions regarding fire, noise and engineering. The farm where the turbines are based is owned by Peter’s father - Lindsay Marriott - who was also on hand. Lindsay highlighted the trouble-free experience he has had with turbines 1km away from his home.
The Australian Wind Alliance will continue to monitor the project, engage with the community and provide information about wind energy.
Construction of the project is slated to begin in 2022.
Tony is the Victorian Organiser for the Australian Wind Alliance
Wind farms have proved themselves for decades, both here and overseas, as a clean and safe way of generating electricity. Despite this fact, there are sections of the media and the anti-wind farm movement who continue to ventilate claims that there is something about wind turbines - the noise, the look, or, ‘I dunno, the vibe…’ - that makes them unsuitable to have around, let alone to make electricity.
The latest exhibits are some especially distorted articles in the Daily Telegraph and The Australian on a recent, fairly innocuous wind farm noise study from South Australia’s Flinders University.
This kind of discourse is lamentable for people living around wind farms as it creates the impression, without supporting evidence, that there is something dangerous going on. This only contributes to uncertainty and anxiety about wind energy - which given the continual attacks on renewables by Murdoch media, is probably their objective.
An innocuous wind farm noise study
The study itself doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. Namely, there is a particular type of noise created when wind turbine blades pass the tower - called amplitude modulation, or AM. (Exactly the same stuff that makes your AM radio work). You can sometimes hear amplitude modulation as part of the overall turbine noise at a distance away from the turbine. It’s not particularly loud or prominent but it does exist and it’s presence is accounted for in the noise limits turbines must operate within. For example, in New South Wales, under the South Australian 2009 methodology, if there is amplitude modulation present above a certain threshold, a 5dB penalty is applied to the measured noise levels. This means overall noise needs to be lower to take into account the presence of AM, or tonality as it is referred to.
What the study has attempted to do is work out how far away from a turbine amplitude modulation can be heard, how often and at what level. As described by the researchers in the Daily Telegraph piece, this study appears to be a first step towards trying to connect historic wind farm noise complaints with AM.
But one step at a time. One thing this study did not do was make any observation at all about what the effect on residents might be, except to note that AM had been connected with annoyance in other studies.
Nevertheless, the Daily Telegraph’s hyperbolic headline, “Wind farm noise annoys residents up to 3.5 km away” somehow conjured the finding that everyone who detected amplitude modulation must be annoyed. I hope the researchers clarified this in their subsequent radio interviews.
The study did, however, thrown up some unanswered questions:
- The report is very limited in that it only studies a single South Australian wind farm. (There are 90+ wind farms across the country and every one has its own technology, geographic layout, etc.) While it wasn’t identified in the paper, the Daily Telegraph did let the cat out of the bag and told readers it was the Waterloo Wind Farm. This is important as the main part of Waterloo uses ten-year-old V90 3 megawatt Vestas turbines with 44m blades turning at 16 rpm. Modern turbines turn much more slowly, so they will have a much lower frequency of amplitude modulation. Modern blades are also far more aerodynamically advanced than the ones turning around at Waterloo. Therefore it’s unlikely these findings would be applicable in many other contexts.
- In 2018, the National Wind Farm Commissioner did not receive a single complaint about wind farm noise in South Australia. This strongly suggests that the noise features studied in this report are no longer an issue for those residents.
Farmers have the final say on noise
Wind farms are now a well-established part of many rural landscapes. We know, as the Australian Wind Alliance has dozens of members who live far closer to turbines than 3.5 km. In many cases, it’s well within 1 km.
Take, for example, Charlie Prell, a NSW farmer whose view from his front window, is this:
These are turbines in the Crookwell 2 wind farm, some of which are 500 metres from his home: “I constantly hear the turbines as they generate energy, sometimes from inside my house. But I also hear every car, truck and motorbike that travels along the Goulburn-Crookwell road," remarks Charlie.
Clearly, farmers like Charlie receive far higher levels of AM than most of the residents in this study. But when these farmers hear wind turbine noise, even when it includes AM, they probably don’t respond with annoyance. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’ll be reminded that the turbines are making clean electricity and contributing reliable, drought-proof finances to their farm business. It’s not being churlish to note that equitable sharing of financial benefits to residents living in and around wind farms is key to ensuring widespread community acceptance.
AWA is seeking an expert review of the foundations of the research. We hope to be able to provide a more comprehensive response then.
As Australians vote this weekend we are very much at an energy and climate crossroads. The scheme that has driven record levels of investment in wind and solar, the 2020 Renewable Energy Target, has effectively run its course but in 2019, after six years of policy destruction and inaction, we have no coherent federal policy to take its place. This election will be a Climate Election, where voters have the opportunity to break the impasse that has hamstrung action on climate and renewables for the last six years.Read more
In a disappointing move, NSW's Department of Planning and Environment has recommended that the 96 megawatt Crookwell 3 wind farm project not be approved. This project would be built alongside the Crookwell 2 wind farm, which commenced full operation earlier this year.
Wind farms have been a strong source of jobs and investment in the Southern Tablelands over the last decade as well as wider community benefits and this project promises to keep this trend going.
Crookwell 3 has proceeded under three different state planning regimes since its inception in 2010, against the background of a highly uncertain investment landscape. The fact that the Department recommended this project be approved in 2015 just highlights the difficulties industry has faced navigating the challenges of shifting government priorities.
DPE's recommendation now goes to the Independent Planning Commission for consideration. The IPC has the power to accept or reject the Department's recommendation and decide on alterations if it sees fit. We look forward to seeing what the proponent can bring forward to resolve the issues the Department has raised.
For more information, see Reneweconomy
This election, to do what’s best for the climate and for regional Australian communities, there are four critical priorities:
Transforming our electricity system to 100% renewable energy
Best practice community engagement and community investment
Orderly transition from coal-burning power generation
Effective emissions reduction mechanism outside the electricity sector
Let's make this a #ClimateElection!Read more
AWA was pleased to see news of a new battery-boosted wind farm proposed in South West Victoria. If successful, it will be located at an existing pine plantation between Portland and Nelson, close to the South Australian border.
The project's benefit program will be designed in close consultation with the community and could include features such as community enhancement funds, green energy subsidies or potentially co-investment. It reflects a growing level of maturity across the wind energy industry, with other recent projects placing community engagement and benefit sharing as central features in their project design from the outset of consultation.
The $1 billion project will also lead to jobs in the construction and ongoing jobs in the region.Read more