The Birds and the Bats: Using Adaptive Management to Find the Balance of Public Interest in Wind Farm Development.

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Wind farms are increasingly being promoted as a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While their development has garnered substantial support, it has also led to divisive viewpoints, particularly with respect to the impacts of wind farms on birds and bats. Regulators, who make decisions with regard to the location and operation of wind farms, are influenced and constrained by multiple policy choices, lack of knowledge and the need to juggle a range of stakeholder perspectives. In navigating the regulatory process, decision-makers strive to attain a balance of public interest – an aim that is difficult to achieve against a backdrop of incomplete knowledge and competing environmental objectives. Using the New South Wales wind farm regime as a case study, this paper argues that it is questionable whether the balance of public interest can conclusively be found at the front end of the environmental impact assessment process. Instead, regulators should be making better use of adaptive management, including techniques, such as monitoring, to build long-term data bases and initiate an iterative process of improvements to make wind farms more bird- and bat-friendly. The paper concludes that while the development of wind energy is an important component in the matrix of renewable energy, regulators should not lose sight of other environmental goals, notably the protection of biodiversity.
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