Written by: Mike Enright, Tyler Reid and Mike Peckford
A key consideration in developing a renewable energy project is understanding its potential impact on wildlife (e.g., birds and bats) and wildlife habitats (e.g., wetlands and native grasslands). The approval of wind, solar and other renewable projects is contingent on, in part, demonstrating the avoidance or mitigation of potential negative effects to wildlife and wildlife habitat. For those impacts that can’t be avoided, it’s often necessary to monitor the effectiveness of mitigation and assess predicted effects during operation to allow for adaptive management and the implementation of corrective actions. Corrective actions need careful consideration to balance their ability to reduce wildlife impacts with their influence on the economic viability of the facility.
Hemmera has helped numerous project owners create and assess mitigation strategies (see our discussion on project commitments here) to reduce potential impacts on wildlife and wildlife habitat across various project stages — from permitting to operations. Our expert teams provide the experience and analysis required to get projects approved and keep projects operating optimally.
This article will discuss some of the common wildlife-related challenges that renewable energy project owners encounter when developing, constructing, and operating projects across Canada.
Common wildlife issues encountered by project owners
The most prevalent wildlife issue that project owners encounter during the permitting and operation stages of a wind project include predicted or actual mortality rates of raptor and bat species. Here we discuss the typical impacts observed on both groups and provide examples of solutions our team has developed to benefit both project owners and wildlife:
- Challenges of raptor mitigation
Raptors (a term encapsulating birds of prey such as hawks, eagles and falcons) are common throughout Canada. Allowable regulated thresholds of mortality during operation are typically low; because of this, we have observed some projects experience delays in receiving approval or have curtailments imposed during operation. Predicting raptor impacts during operation based on pre-construction data is difficult as impacts tend to be highly variable, site- and species-specific, and may occur during all seasons related to differences in migration, nesting or foraging habits of the species found at the Project.
Hemmera’s experts have been engaged by owners on multiple projects, with positive results, to provide third-party advice to develop options to mitigate impacts on these species, to conduct independent behavioural studies of the local bird populations, and to develop solutions to reduce mortality. In doing so, we’ve developed innovative ways to solve the issue of raptors interacting with operational wind facilities. For instance, at one wind project, our team developed a simple yet creative and cost effective solution to provide nesting material and artificial nest platforms in relatively safe locations near the project site, resulting in reduced collisions with turbines. We have also assessed species-specific behaviours related to carrion and perch availability and created a carrion removal plan and retrofitted above-ground transmission lines with perch deterrents to manipulate raptor behaviour within the project area to keep birds safe.
- Understanding bat mitigation
Bat species, particularly migratory bat species, have been identified as species of concern from wind energy developments for most jurisdictions in North America. In contrast to raptors, patterns of bat impacts are often predictable: the impacts are typically most prominent for migratory species during the fall migration season. The greatest uncertainty when predicting bat impacts is the magnitude. While a post-construction monitoring and mitigation plan for bats is typically required prior to operation, the most appropriate approach to implementing bat mitigation (if required) is to assess the results of post-construction monitoring to obtain an accurate assessment of the impacts before implementing mitigation measures. While bat deterrents and smart curtailment systems are becoming more accepted by regulators and more widely used by industry, operational curtailment (i.e., increasing turbine cut-in speed) is still the most commonly utilized mitigation. Also, the percent reduction of fatalities with an increase in a specific turbine cut-in speed can be predicted using available published data to allow wind operators to understand the resultant production loss as a result of the strategies they may need to employ. These strategies can be further explored and adapted to meet specific attributes of the facility.
At Hemmera, we understand the importance of working closely with project owners and their energy production modeling specialists to design bat mitigation strategies that can successfully reduce bat fatalities while maximizing power production. For example, by identifying bat fatality risk levels based on site-specific variables (season, time of day, weather, turbine location to habitat features, etc.), operators can choose to employ different cut-in speeds at different intervals. The result is a somewhat predictable reduction of bat fatality rates and power generation. Hemmera’s experts bring together an understanding of how bat life-history behaviours, site-specific data, and the flexibility of regulatory adaptive management approaches can be brought together to develop a viable plan to reduce impacts to migratory bats from project operations while maintaining the viability of the project.
Helping owners find wildlife solutions
Our work helps project owners effectively manage their operations, save time and resources, and maintain the necessary social license to operate in today’s society. As part of a renewable energy project’s role in the transition to a low-carbon economy, Hemmera understands that each project must be socially and environmentally responsible and respect the communities in which they operate.
At Hemmera, we are committed to helping our clients achieve their goals of remaining responsible renewable energy project owners. We help them understand and manage their environmental commitments throughout the lifecycle of a project. Our experience also proves that we don’t just analyze and monitor the projects we work on but often develop innovative solutions to solve our clients’ problems.
In the final article of this series, we’ll discuss how our team helps communities in Canada’s North transition away from diesel power and toward renewable energy alternatives.
Hemmera, a subsidiary of Ausenco, is a recognized leader in providing environmental support to the renewable energy sector including wind energy, solar, small hydro, run-of-river developments and associated transmission projects. For more than two decades, our talented, dedicated and experienced impact assessment teams have supported many of Canada’s largest and most challenging projects.
We are experienced in managing environmental reviews and have completed many joint reviews and audits of proposed and operational projects. Our depth of experience and multi-disciplinary approach allow us to steer projects through the complex assessment and regulatory processes – on time and on budget.
Our team of experts are ready to help, reach out to the team to learn more.
Other articles in the series:
- Understanding environmental risks early in a project and planning for successful operation
- Regional Differences in Environmental Assessments for Renewables
- Understanding your EA commitments and how they impact construction and operation
- Involving the host community in your project