USGS Maps out Wind Energy for the First Time


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has created a publicly available national dataset and interactive mapping application of wind turbines.


Officials say the dataset is built with publicly available data, as well as with satellite imagery. The locations of all wind turbines, including the publicly available datasets, were visually verified with high-resolution remote imagery to within plus or minus 10 meters.

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, officials say.wind map

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.

Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing sectors of renewable energy in the United States. About 3 percent of the total electricity in the United States was generated by wind turbines in 2012 (according to the DOE’s Energy Information Administration), which is equivalent to the annual electricity use for about 12 million households. The amount of electricity generated by wind has increased from about 6 billion kilowatt hours (kwh) in 2000 to 140 billion kwh in 2012.

In response to the Department of Interior’s Powering Our Future initiative, USGS has begun investigating how to assess the impacts of wind energy development on wildlife at a national scale, using its experience assessing energy resources to assess nationwide impacts of wind energy development.

USGS has recently undertaken a project to develop a methodology for assessing wind energy impacts on wildlife at a national scale. Different from previous USGS energy assessments, in which instead of looking at technically recoverable resources of oil, gas, geothermal or coal, or even technically accessible storage areas for carbon sequestration, the agency is developing a method for determining the impacts of a type of energy production.

The work aims to merge USGS experience in creating assessment methodologies with expertise in wildlife ecology and wind-wildlife research, as well as in land change science. USGS is bringing together scientists with expertise in landscape-level science, wildlife biology and other associated disciplines to create the methodology.

Once developed, the methodology 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.

Wind energy impacts on wildlife can include potential bird and bat mortality from collisions with turbine blades, and in some cases, species avoidance of habitat near turbines. Habitat impacts include the turbine pads in addition to service roads, transmission lines, substations, meteorological towers, and other structures associated with wind energy siting, generation, and transmission.

The first step in understanding the impact of wind energy development is to determine where the wind turbines are located, officials say. Previously to the USGS effort, there was no publicly available national-level data set of wind turbines. There were maps that showed turbines locations in a few states, and there were national-level maps that showed wind power facilities, but not individual turbines, or information about those turbines, such as height, blade length, or energy producing capacity.

The new database and map will be available to federal and state land managers, non-governmental organizations, the energy industry, scientists and the public.

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