Chapter 1: Regulatory Context, Study Methods, and Voluntary Development Guidelines

A Common Toolkit for Evaluating Risk and Impacts

Updated September 01, 2021

Avian interactions with wind turbines first began to garner public attention in the 1980s. By early 1994, the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC) was organized to support the sustainable commercialization of wind power, and representatives from the environmental community, wind energy industry, academia, and federal and state governments began meeting to define a research program to address wind power-related avian mortality issues. The NWCC formed a workgroup to focus on this topic, and the need for standardized study methods and metrics – a common toolkit for evaluating risk and measuring impacts – became an early focus of the committee’s work.

In 1999, the NWWC’s Wildlife Workgroup produced a compendium of best practices for studying wind interactions with avian species. In 2011, an updated edition broadened the focus to include other wildlife, particularly bats: the Comprehensive Guide to Studying Wind Energy/Wildlife Interactions contains an introduction to the issues surrounding wind-wildlife interactions and provides a detailed discussion of study questions and the methods and metrics used to address those questions, illustrated with case studies.

The 2011 Guide also introduced the concept of a decision framework, organizing the discussion of metrics, methods, and study protocols according to the kinds of information that need to be gathered at each stage of project development and operation:

  • Preliminary site screening and site evaluation – assessing the suitability of a proposed wind facility site with regard to species of concern, including the potential for fatalities and for habitat loss
  • Baseline studies and predictive models – documenting species abundance and habitat use and assessing the potential effects of a proposed wind energy facility on species of concern
  • Post-construction fatality studies – evaluating the actual effects of wind energy technology on wildlife
  • Risk reduction and mitigation evaluation – evaluating the effectiveness of measures taken to avoid, minimize, or offset significant adverse impacts and reduce risk

Having a common set of cost-effective and consistent study designs, methods, and metrics benefits all stakeholders by:

  • Enhancing both the credibility and the comparability of study results
  • Supporting consistent regulatory decision making
  • Encouraging efficient use of research and monitoring budgets and reduce the overall need for future studies
  • Generating a body of knowledge about wind-wildlife interactions and potential solutions to identified challenges

The decision framework, methods, and metrics introduced in the Comprehensive Guide to Studying Wind Energy/Wildlife Interactions were designed to be consistent with the recommendations that became the basis for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s voluntary Land-based Wind Energy Guidelines.