What have we learned from Europe About the Impacts of Offshore Wind Farms on Birds? Why Is This Information Applicable?

This question was supplied by the ‘Ask the Experts’ database managers.

Reviewed by: Dr. Scott McWilliams

Last Update: May 21st, 2020

The Ask the Experts database managers conducted an interview with Dr. Scott McWilliams (Professor of Wildlife Ecology & Physiology) to summarize the findings of multiple URI studies that have set out to minimize the effects that the Block Island Wind Farm has had on birds and bats.

Dr. McWilliams reveals that researchers in the United States have had the opportunity to learn a lot from European studies about offshore wind’s effects on birds. Due to the fact that Europe is approximately 15 years ahead of the U.S. in the field of offshore wind, our researchers have been able to delve into these projects with a strong source of verified information. The European’s research on birds is applicable to the Block Island Wind Farm because both areas have the same general categories of birds such as sea ducks, gannets and cormorants; and, though the same exact species may not be present in both areas, the same ecological niches are filled.

Europe’s pre-existing work in offshore wind has given researchers across the U.S. the ability to compare both pre-and-post-construction observations as well as their subsequent effects with wind farms which have been operating for approximately 15 years prior. One example that illustrates this is when the turbine locations for the Block Island Wind Farm were being sited. U.S. researchers had the advantage of knowing that the biggest challenge that Europe has faced with turbine location is displacement of birds from their preferred areas. This knowledge allowed the siting team to factor in these concerns before proceeding with construction rather than attempting to mitigate the issue after the fact.

McWilliams also credits researchers in Europe with aiding the U.S. in designing successful avian monitoring surveys. The Europeans had already experimented with and perfected the methodology for plane-based surveys, ship-based surveys and data modeling. Having this information was a huge factor in the success of implementing these models in the Block Island Wind Farm and eliminated the need for tedious trial and error.

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