Hydropower dams, wind turbines, solar power arrays and other forms of renewable energy have been a mixed blessing for Oregonians.

On the one hand these clean sources of energy have pushed Oregon to the top of the renewable power pile, accounting for nearly half the energy used in the homes, shops and businesses in the state.

But while they don’t require the burning of fossil fuels, renewable energy projects still produce negative impacts on the environment by disrupting wildlife and their habitats.

Dams halt the natural spawning runs of indigenous salmon. The giant blades on wind turbines kill thousands of birds annually. And solar arrays — collections of solar panels — can disturb animal migration paths and historic sites.

The benefits and challenges of renewable energy will be on display at a new exhibit at Bend’s High Desert Museum. “Fueling the Future/Energizando el Futuro,” with both Spanish and English displays, opens Saturday and runs through March 8.

Curators of the exhibit decided to focus on issues not widely known among the public. Instead of dwelling on the impacts that hydropower dams have on fish, one exhibit explains how reservoirs behind dams can be the source of dangerous levels of methane, due to decaying plants and other organisms.

In addition to showing off renewable energy projects currently in play, the exhibit will also focus on the latest developments in renewable energy technology, such as bladeless wind turbines and carbon capture technology.

“Changing our energy sources in the face of climate change poses daunting challenges, globally and locally,” said the museum’s Executive Director Dana Whitelaw. The new exhibit “looks to the future with optimism and examines what might lie ahead for the High Desert.”

The High Desert Museum isn’t just putting on a display for the public. It is also helping to develop renewable technology. One program includes a partnership with Oregon State University to develop software that detects eagles from a distance and activates a deterrent if a bird approaches a turbine.

Visitors will also learn about the innovative vortex bladeless turbine, which resembles a thick flagpole that shakes rapidly in wind to produce energy. The vortex’s innovative design, lacking moving parts, is safer for birds compared to traditional turbines.

Hands-on, interactive displays will feature prominently at the exhibit. Visitors will be able to design a wind turbine, hop on a bike to power different kinds of lightbulbs, and locate the best places to install a new power plant. The curators were intent on encouraging visitors to apply energy saving habits at home.

“We want this to be an optimistic exhibit to get people to reduce their energy consumption. The goal is for everyone to be inspired to act on climate change,” said Louise Shirley, the museum’s curator of natural history.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, mkohn@bendbulletin.com

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