New interactive wind turbine map is a game-changer for renewable energy

Interactive wind turbine map released by the Department of the Interior in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey.

DOI/USGS

Learn everything there is to know about all of America's wind energy projects. And just at the tip of your fingers.

Have you ever been curious to know the location of every single wind turbine in the U.S.? Well, the Department of the Interior (DOI) sure has, which is why they teamed up with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to unveil the first ever interactive map of every wind energy project in the nation.

Not only does this mapping technology provide a user-friendly way to view a detailed inventory of our nation’s 47,000 (and growing) wind turbines, it also helps federal agencies protect America’s wildlife and wildlands.

These maps are a game-changer for the renewable energy industry because they will allow lawmakers and industry officials to evaluate current wind development on a landscape level in order to make better and more informed decisions about where to put energy projects. Such large-scale information could help decision makers avoid potential conflicts with wildlife habitat or other sensitive areas.

Information like turbine type, the amount of potential power produced, blade length and more can help land managers, developers and scientists to advance wind energy in the U.S. while also providing the geographical data necessary to limit environmental impacts. In addition, this free tool will be used to research and evaluate the economic impacts of wind generation to counties and states.

“Prior to this study, there was no publicly available national-level data set of wind turbines,” the USGS said in a recent blog post.

The USGS remarks:                   

“Knowing the location of individual turbines, as well as information such as the make, model, height, area of the turbine blades, and capacity creates new opportunities for research, and important information for land and resource management.  For example, turbine-level data will improve scientists’ ability to study wildlife collisions, the wakes causes by wind turbines, the interaction between wind turbines and ground based radar, and how wind energy facilities overlap with migratory flyways.”

We already know that certain wild areas should be off-limits to development because they may potentially harm birds and other wildlife, but now we have a collection of data and science at our fingertips that makes this argument irrefutable. This mapping technology will play a crucial role in developing methodology that will be externally peer-reviewed and tested with pilot-level data projects. Once peer reviewed, the revised methodology will be published for others to understand and use.

Now, there’s no excuse to not develop successful renewable energy programs that are “smart from the start,” in that they collectively consider all scientific and community input available. The Wilderness Society strongly advocates for this informed type of approach to development. We’re working with government agencies and land planners to guide renewable energy development away from sensitive wildlands, and onto lands that have already been used.

Wind turbines along coast. Photo: Lakwatsero, Flickr

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan advises the Interior Department to increase renewable energy production on public land to reduce carbon pollution. Last year, the president ordered the federal government to triple its renewable energy usage by 2020. In order to meet this goal, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and her team should be able to use the new wind turbine map to evaluate development on a large landscape-level, to help federal agencies minimize conflict and impacts on our nation’s wildlands.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that wind turbines account for between 140,000 and 573,000 migratory bird deaths per year.  While free-ranging domestic cats and collisions with buildings still cause the vast majority of bird deaths, limiting bird deaths from wind turbines by keeping new development out of known bird migration corridors is a clear priority.

It’s likely we’ll see more from this mapping technology, as the USGS has expressed plans to do more with the data procured from the map.  “Building on the map and dataset, the USGS will utilize [collected data] to assess the potential impacts associated with the widespread development of wind energy on wildlife,” said USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator Brenda Pierce, who led the two-year project.   

Advancing wind energy is important to our nation’s environment, energy independence and economy. But we need to be smart about our renewable energy future in order to limit the conflicts and impacts that we have seen for decades with fossil fuel development. Thankfully, tools like this interactive map are making that effort a little breezier. 

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