Whirlwind effect: How eco-friendly are windmills?

A file photo of Kappatagudda in Gadag district, which has40 windmills operating in the forest area.file photo

A file photo of Kappatagudda in Gadag district, which has40 windmills operating in the forest area.file photo  

Spinning turbines atop rocky hills in Karnataka, which have become symbols of the State’s pitch for “greener sources” of electricity, may have come at a price to forests and its denizens.

A little over 6,870 acres of forest land has made way for wind farms and associated infrastructure, including transmission lines and roads in Karnataka, shows Forest Clearance data obtained from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoeF). The demand continues as the last two years has seen proposals – in various stages of approval – for further diversion of 1,612 acres of forest land for windmills.

Much of these are set up in the hill ranges of Kappatagudda, which is embroiled in a controversy regarding its conservation tag, in Gadag district and Jogimatti of Chitradurga district. And, it is here that the Karnataka Forest Department has commissioned a study, for the first time, to report on the year-long comprehensive study on the impact of wind turbines.

“There are reports of bird deaths and other effects on avian fauna abroad owing to the windmills. We wanted to specifically study the impact here, particularly considering that Chitradurga is saturated with windmills,” said Anur Reddy, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Forest Clearance).

The 18-month study, conducted by researchers from Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History in Coimbatore, is expected to be completed by year-end.

H.N. Kumara, senior scientist who is heading the study, said: “Windmills come up in wind funnels (where winds have high speeds), which are also used by migratory birds as a cruising path. Similarly, the noise and vibrations may affect larger mammals, leading to conflict. Even if no impact is found, the study will clear up doubts and give clarity.”

However, activists believe the effects of windmills are plain to see. Indrajit Ghorpade, who runs Deccan Conservation Foundation that focusses on conservation in scrub forests, says turbines in the hillocks of Koppal, Chitradurga and Bagalkot have played “havoc” on habitats of many species. “These mills have seen population of spotted deer, hyenas, chinkaras, blackbucks, and wolves decline owing to habitat loss. Now, we don’t see wolves close to windmills,” he said.

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