Planning is underway for a project that will assess implications of wind farm development on grassland birds and the prairie landscape within the Nebraska Sand Hills.
With a preliminary study design already defined, a doctoral-level student is currently being selected to conduct the research, said Joseph Fontaine, project leader with the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
The primary objective is to "assess behavioral, population, and/or wildlife community impacts of wind farm siting decisions with the aim of facilitating siting decisions that simultaneously maximize energy potential and ecological resilience."
Primary priorities for the research include surveying birds and vegetation at potential wind farm locations. Study sites will be selected by working with landowners, public power companies and wind developers.
Aesthetics and view-scape impacts, as well as socio-economic considerations will also be evaluated. The ideal situation would allow a comparison at an expected wind farm site a year or two before the turbines are constructed, Fontaine said. As the development occurs and starts to operate, further evaluations would be conducted to provide a before and after comparison.
"We want to develop indices to measures the long-term dynamics" related to wind turbine siting, Fontaine said, "and make decisions that are beneficial to everyone. We need to think about long-term implications before decisions are made."
There are no known sites within the sand hills region currently being considered for wind farm development, he said.
The only current wind-turbine site within the region is south of Ainsworth.
The sandhills are a "large, contiguous and intact environment," Fontaine said. Research will help in understanding the "true costs" of putting up wind turbines, and bring these items to the forefront for discussion and evaluation.
This project "is a great opportunity for Nebraska and research interests," to evaluate the implications of wind turbines development in a prairie landscape.
Funding for this project to be conducted by the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is being provided by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Research will get underway in August 2011.