Illinois Aims to Add More Wind Farms

As Illinois forges ahead with plans to assist in the adding of more wind farms around the state, environmentalists say there is a downside.

Hundreds of thousands of birds and bats perish annually in collisions with turbine blades and other equipment at renewable energy installations.

The country’s solar farms have a bird problem as well. Utility companies reportedly have been finding bird carcasses littering the ground at their facilities for years. In 2016, a study by ScienceDirect estimated that the hundreds of utility-scale solar farms around the U.S. may kill nearly 140,000 birds annually.

During debate on legislation at the Illinois statehouse about county control over placement of renewable energy projects, state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, cited another study in which a large portion of the deaths involved eagles and hawks.

“Why is that important? Because they’re the ones that keep all the other species in check,” said Rose. “They are the ones who eat mice and rats and prevent vermin from spreading disease.”

Last year, a wind energy company was ordered to pay more than $8 million in fines and restitution after at least 150 eagles were killed at its wind farms in eight states, including Illinois. NextEra Energy subsidiary ESI Energy pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Conservation biology professor Angelo Capperella at Illinois State University is concerned about bats, which help control insect populations.

“The bats are a really huge issue, one that I don’t know how the wind farm companies are going to deal with it because bats have been declining for other reasons as well,” said Capperella.

Capperella said one solution would be to turn off the windmills at night when bats are migrating.

It now appears Illinois will become involved in the siting of wind and solar projects. Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign legislation which essentially takes away local control from counties for the siting of wind farms. It is a complete reversal from last summer when Pritzker said the state would not get involved.