Reconciling renewable energy sources with their environmental impact

Nina Turner, one of our planning advisors, writes about her experience attending a seminar run by the Greek Ministry for Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Good practices for reconciling wind energy development and biodiversity conservation.

Wind turbine. © Caroline Stanton/SNH

Wind turbine. © Caroline Stanton/SNH

The Greek Ministry for Environment, Energy and Climate Change recently hosted a seminar called Good practices for reconciling wind energy development and biodiversity conservation. The Ministry brought together Greek stakeholders, from ornithologists to developers and local government, to learn about biodiversity and spatial planning for wind farms.

We were invited to attend the conference to share our considerable experience and good practice. This was an opportunity to show how we are looking after and improving nature and provide leadership in Europe on environmental issues.  It was great to see colleagues from other organisations, including the World Wide Fund for Nature, RSPB, and Bird Watch Ireland, come together to support the Greek Ministry’s goal of developing wind farms whilst considering the environmental impacts.

I was asked to share SNH’s insights on strategic planning of onshore wind energy projects of Scotland, but also learned a lot about some of the challenges Greece is facing as it expands investment in wind energy. For example, despite the push to reduce Greek reliance on coal as a source of energy, fewer than 4% of proposed onshore wind farms are installed. This is probably because installing a wind farm requires approval from multiple departments, a complicated process which can take up to eight years!

A more critical issue for me with regard to wind farms is considering the impact they have on the environment and local wildlife. This is uniquely challenging in Greece because the environment Ministry is very small and has little ecological experience; similarly local governments don’t have this expertise, and there is no independent environmental organisation in Greece to provide impartial expert advice.

This is a real concern in northern Greece in particular, where the areas with strong winds – that are more likely to be used as a wind farm – are Natura sites for rare and vulnerable vulture and eagle species. Renewable energy sources such as wind farms are alternatives to fossil fuel energy sources that create greenhouse gases. As we reduce reliance on fossil fuels, we can further tackle the effects of climate change on people and nature – but the challenge is to do this whilst also protecting species at risk. For example, taking into account existing and planned wind turbines, the predicted collision risk in Greece is 10 vultures per year. With fewer than 100 black and Egyptian vultures in the country, this is a significant risk to the population. This is why Greek authorities are keen to speak to other countries about careful siting and design: to learn how to achieve this balance of wind farm development and protection of conservation interests.

Egyptian vultures. © putneymark, Creative Commons

Egyptian vultures. © putneymark, Creative Commons

Greek authorities are working hard to bring relevant stakeholders together and meet their renewable energy targets but recognise the need to safeguard vulnerable species. We discussed ways to mitigate the risks to wildlife, including excluding wind farms from sensitive bird areas, slowing down turbines in migratory paths during migration season, and emitting noise as a deterrent to birds flying near turbines.

While much of the seminar focused on birds, other issues emerged such as construction methods and consideration of landscape impacts. Environmental Impact Assessment also seems to take place later in the process than in other countries, with limited survey work done to inform the decisions. Overall, it was a fascinating opportunity to explore some of the challenges other countries face when planning for wind farms.

It was great to see SNH’s reputation as a credible, independent science-based organisation is recognised internationally. We believe Scottish nature and landscapes are valuable, and it’s good to see other countries agree.


Good development stamp.

Creative Commons images are used under license.

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