Energy & electricity production can impact humans and the environment, but also animals and wildlife.
In this guide, we list and explain of few ways animals may be impacted by different types of energy production/generation.
Summary – How Energy & Electricity Production Impacts Animals & Wildlife
When it comes to impact on animals of energy and electricity production – there can be direct, and indirect effects.
What is interesting to note is that renewable energy like wind and hydroelectric power can damage wildlife and ecosystems. So, it’s not just fossil fuel based power like coal and natural gas that can have an impact.
But, some sources say that fossil fuel energy production has a much bigger negative impact comparatively. This is especially strongly supported when you consider not only the combustion of coal, but how coal is mined – and the impact mining has on rivers and wildlife habitats.
- Injury when water is drawn into the power plant
- Harm from thermal pollution when warm water is discharged into an aquatic environment from the power plant or power site
- Harm from radioactive waste from nuclear, or even plant malfunctions (Chernobyl impacted animal populations for decades after)
- Harm from wind power windmill blades (harm to flying creatures like birds)
- Harm from power lines that carry electricity from power plants (birds that sit on the lines can be killed)
- Climate change can impact animal habitats (caused by GHG emissions from coal and fossil fuels)
- Acid rain can get into animal environments (from smog containing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide)
- Heavy metal such as mercury from combustion of fossil fuels can get into animal environments
Impact Of Energy & Electricity Production On Animals & Wildlife
- once-through cooling systems [a type of cooling system for steam from turbines or generators] can have devastating impacts on aquatic ecosystems. As water is drawn into the plant, fish, fish eggs and other aquatic life can be injured or killed in the process.
- In addition, when the cooling water is put back into the water body from which it came, it is typically warmer than when it was withdrawn, potentially damaging aquatic life through “thermal pollution.”
- In fact, the main source of thermal pollution in rivers is cooling water from power plants. Many plants across the US have reported returning cooling water to source waters with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and some reported temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This will become increasingly problematic as average air and water temperatures make record breaking increases every year due to climate change. More power to run air conditioners and HVAC systems will be required, which means more cooling water will be necessary. That cooling water will be harder to cool because of higher air temperatures and the water it will be returned to will be warmer, causing even more aquatic damage.
- Specific animal species that can be impacted by wind and solar energy production equipment are eagles, condors, seabirds, other types of birds, bats, desert animals like desert tortoises, and pollinators
- …renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower also have environmental impacts … [and impact on] wildlife and habitat loss
- [onshore wind turbines can impact birds and bats, while offshore wind turbines can impact fish and aquatic/marine species]
- [With hydroelectric energy] fish and other organisms can be injured and killed by turbine blades, [as well as aquatic animals being impacted by the way the hydroelectric plant manipulates and changes the water and other variables like algae and nutrients in the water]
- SO2 causes acid rain, which is harmful to plants and to animals that live in water. SO2 also worsens respiratory illnesses and heart diseases, particularly in children and the elderly.
- Heavy metals such as mercury are hazardous to human and animal health.
reneweconomy.com.au provides a table of different energy production sources and their likelihood of impacting wildlife, and says wind has much lower risk to wildlife than fossil fuel energy sources:
- replacing all fossil fuel generation with wind turbines world-wide would save roughly 70 MILLION birds’ lives annually. Wind energy is actually the form of generation with the lowest impact on wildlife
- Air and water pollution are two leading environmental issues associated with geothermal energy technologies
- if [releases of different air and water pollutants are] concentrated, [they] can create localized fish and wildlife kills.
- … Geothermal resource development is often highly centralized, so reducing their environmental impacts to an acceptable level is achievable.
- Fossil fuel-fired electric power plants … [have] significant impacts on water and habitat and species. In particular, hydro dams and transmission lines have significant effects on water and biodiversity.
- … [you also have to consider the impact coal and fossil fuel mining, and not just combustion, has on wildlife and their habitats]
- Coal mining practices in the United States have also included strip mining and removing mountain tops. Mill tailings are left out bare and have been leached into local rivers and resulted in most or all of the rivers in coal producing areas to run red year round with sulfuric acid that kills all life in the rivers.
- … [it’s not only fossil fuel energy production that impact wildlife] … gravity foundations for wind power windmills for example have a large land footprint and can displace habitats
- A large nuclear power plant may reject waste heat to a natural body of water; this can result in undesirable increase of the water temperature with adverse effect on aquatic life.
- Mining of uranium ore can disrupt the environment around the mine.
- Marine based energy sources like offshore wind turbines or tidal equipment can have concerns with creating an electromagnetic field that may be harmful to some marine organisms
- Geothermal energy can be responsible for increased temperature [discharge] when returned to streams or lakes, may have a significant impact on local ecosystems.