Researchers in Oregon are using a federal grant of over half a million dollars to figure out how to stop wind turbines from killing thousands of birds every year.
Researchers at Oregon State University were awarded a 27-month, $625,000 grant from the Department of Energy Wind Technology Office i n May 2017 with one goal in mind: Develop a system that can prevent wind turbines from killing golden eagles and other birds. Wind energy technology — despite being touted as an environmentally-friendly source of renewable energy — is estimated to kill well over 100,000 birds every year. With new wind farms being built across the U.S., that number is only expected to rise.
“It is critical to help the species survive,” Oregon State University associate professor of mechanical engineering Roberto Albertani said in a statement to the Associated Press. Albertani is on the team at OSU looking for a solution.
Albertani and his team are working on an ongoing project that might prevent windmills from chopping birds in half as they fly through the air. Such a prevention system includes a sensor that can be mounted on the tower of a wind turbine and detect nearby birds. If a bird is determined to be in danger of getting sliced, the sensor can trigger a deterrence mechanism on the ground to scare it away. Another sensor can ultimately confirm if the bird collided with the blades or not.
If successful, such a solution would solve a problem that has befuddled wind energy proponents — many of whom claim that the number of bird fatalities by windmills are exaggerated, and argue that other factors, such as household pets, kill birds at a higher rate. (RELATED: Here’s How Renewable Energy Actually Hurts The Environment)
While cats are estimated to kill a staggering one to four billion birds per year, these birds are typically small and abundant, such as pigeons, sparrows and robins. Wind turbines, on the other hand, kill larger, more rare birds, like the red-tailed hawk, the American kestrel and the golden eagle. These type of birds are not only more endangered, but they are slower to reproduce — which means premature deaths cause much more of an impact on their species.
“Could these problems be avoided with better siting and technology innovation?” asked environmental activist Michael Shellenberger, a sharp critic of wind energy technology. “The answer is ‘maybe a little sometimes’ — but almost always at a very high cost.”
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