Paint It, Black

Norwegian wind farm reportedly cut bird deaths by 70 percent with simple change

A Norwegian wind farm says it painted its turbine blades black and reduced bird deaths by 70 percent, according to a study published in scientific research journal Ecology and Evolution this August. Researchers from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and Lake Annsjon Bird Observatory (Duved, Sweden) found that, as past laboratory experiments had indicated, “painting one of three rotor blades black minimizes motion smear,” the visual phenomenon created by fast-moving blades. The research was recorded at Smøla Wind Farm on Norway’s western coastline.

Aviary collisions are incredibly common; they are continually a topic of panel discourse at renewable energy trade shows…and political debate. U.S. President Donald Trump has chirped fairly often about the issue since 2014. The  commander-in-chief’s affinity for bird-related platforms cannot be understated here. (Warning: the video below contains images of bird casualties some may find disturbing):

The Obama Administration took heat for not addressing the issue with enough urgency; it only mandated wind farms create “bird-safe” turbines by 2030. As discussed in the video above, vertical-axis turbine designs were developed to combat the problem. These often contain “shields” that aerodynamically deflect birds before they get too close, and are said to simultaneously heighten efficiency. With that being said, bird-safe technology is a still a major issue in the industry.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s most recent estimates in 2018:

“Estimates of bird/turbine collision range widely and all of the studies attempting to quantify this contain some level of bias and uncertainty. The most comprehensive and statistically sound estimates show that bird deaths from turbine collisions are between 140,000 and 500,000 birds per year. As wind energy capacity increases under the DOE’s mandate (a six-fold increase from current levels), statistical models predict that mean bird deaths resulting in collisions with turbines could reach 1.4 million birds/year.”

The most harsh critics (of renewable energy in general, and take this with a grain of salt due to political bias) put total bird deaths at almost 3 billion since 1969. This includes solar panel-related bird deaths, too.

An abstract of the Norwegian study details that applying contrast painting to the rotor blades “significantly reduced the collision risk for a range of birds,” but not without a hitch. Painting the rotor blades at operational turbines was resource-demanding given that they had to be painted while in place. The study further suggested that “if implemented before construction, this cost will be minimized.”

The story has caught immediate attention, from Popular Mechanics to CNET.

Renewable energy and politics have become inseparably linked as the world grapples with climate change. In broader wind power news, AWEA recently doled out some bipartisan recognition with at least one notable omission: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has made her name at least in part by championing the so-called “Green New Deal”, a roadmap for a sustainable future in America. AWEA issued the recognition as part of American Wind Week August 12.

The 2020 Wind Champions are:
•         Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D – New York)
•         Senator Bill Cassidy (R – Louisiana)
•         Senator Tina Smith (D-Minnesota)
•         Senator John Thune (R – South Dakota)
•         Senator Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska)
•         House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D – California 12)
•         House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D – Maryland 5)
•         Congressman Don Bacon (R – Nebraska 2)
•         Congressman Paul Tonko (D – New York 20)
•         Congressman Darin LaHood (R – Illinois 18)
•         Governor Andrew Cuomo (D – New York)
•         Governor Kim Reynolds (R – Iowa)
•         Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D – New Mexico)
•         Governor Jay Inslee (D – Washington)
•         Governor Kevin Stitt (R – Oklahoma)
•         Governor Ralph Northam (D – Virginia)

“American wind energy has grown substantially over the past decade, building on a 50-state footprint of family-supporting jobs, local manufacturing, and investments in rural communities,” said Tom Kiernan, AWEA CEO, in a press release August 12. “This American success story owes a great debt to bipartisan support from leaders on Capitol Hill and in states across the country who have recognized wind’s ability to drive this country’s economy forward with clean, reliable, and affordable energy. In the face of the significant challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, this support means more than ever. Our deepest thanks to these champions who are helping wind build a stronger and more resilient American future.”

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