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Bat in the Wind Turbine Facility … Today’s Canary in the Coal Mine  

Author:  | Wildlife

The notion that the wind industry is predominantly made up of small, environmentally conscious operations is one that must be quickly dispelled.

These are large, corporate-scale utility companies, not unlike coal and oil conglomerates … with a checkered environmental track record to date.

Voluntary guidelines will not change that paradigm, and will work about as well as voluntary taxes.

—George Fenwick, President, American Bird Conservancy, “Fed wind farm rules may not save birds” (UPI, May 10, 2010)

Things are going badly for our wildlife populations in and around the operating industrial scale wind projects in Wisconsin.

Anecdotal reports from people living in Wisconsin wind projects report an absence of normal wildlife, i.e. no turkey, no deer, fewer or no songbirds, and no bats. Relatives and friends outside the wind facility report greater numbers of deer and turkey.

The birds and deer are leaving the area, but the bats are as likely to be dying as leaving.

A recent post-construction bird and bat mortality report, conducted by We Energies (WEPCO) as part of receiving approval for its Blue Sky Green Field project, shows that the bird deaths were 11 to 12 bird deaths per turbine per year. This is four times higher than the national average of 3 bird kills per turbine per year.

Even more alarming are the bat kill rates of 40.54 to 41 per turbine per year. This is more than ten times the reported national average of less than 4 per turbine per year.

Wisconsin’s turbine-related bat deaths are among the highest in North America, and equal to the bat mortality numbers from the Pennsylvania/Appalachia area which stunned conservationists across the nation.

The total number of bats killed by the 88-turbine Blue Sky Green Field project is estimated to be between 3,500 and 3,600 per year.

Two additional post-construction reports show the same bat kill rates at the Cedar Ridge project and slightly higher kill rates at the Invenergy Forward Energy project near the Horicon Marsh.

These three projects alone have resulted in an estimated 8,000 bat deaths per year.

That’s 16,000 dead bats for the two years these projects have been in operation.

Predictions for number of bat kills for the pending Glacier Hills wind project are expected to be equally as high, adding at least another 3,500 turbine-related bat deaths per year.

Can Wisconsin bat populations sustain this kind of impact?

Bats are not being struck by the blades (135 feet long with tip speeds of 180 mph), but are suffering catastrophic damage to their lungs as they fly into the low-pressure zone that is created behind the rotating blades.

This drop in pressure causes their lungs to expand rapidly, burst and fill with fluid and blood, and they drown. It is called barotrauma – deep-sea divers get a version of it called the bends when raised too quickly from the depths.

Birds have different lung structures, so they are not as readily affected, but bats are mammals and have lungs much more similar to ours, so take a deep breath, and imagine you can’t stop inhaling until your lungs burst.

Bats live up to thirty years, reproduce slowly, maybe one pup a year, and because they maintain tight family groups, the loss of a single bat can have a significant impact.

Bats are a vital link in the natural balance of Wisconsin’s wild and not so wild areas.

I cannot think of a time in human history that bats have not been flying over Wisconsin, but the loss of our bat population could happen in our lifetimes.

White nose syndrome, a nasal/respiratory fungus, is threatening cave-roosting/hibernating species of bats, in the eastern United States into extinction, but it has not yet reached Wisconsin.

Industrial wind turbines kill all species of bats, even the tree-roosting/migrating species we hope might be spared from the white nose blight.

If the state continues to follow its plan to add 200 to 300 new industrial turbines each year until 2025, turbine-related bat deaths could be as high as 131,200 to 192,700 bats per year.

This total annual mortality number is unlikely, because the remaining bat populations would likely crash from mounting annual losses before then.

I am asking that we, as conservationists, help stop this needless slaughter.

Contact the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin with your concerns.

Shari Koslowsky, Conservation Biologist with the DNR, has been very helpful in explaining the post-construction mortality numbers. She can be reached at shari.koslowsky@wisconsin.gov and (608) 261-4382.

My main concern is that there is no representative of any organization with expertise in wildlife and natural habitat protection on the Wind Siting Council. The Wind Siting Council is a 15-member organization currently working on creating guidelines for siting wind turbines in our state.

I am asking that the DNR require the PSC to stop the operation of industrial-scale wind turbine facilities at night (curtailment) when electrical demand is low and easily met by existing base load generation which cannot be shut off.

The period from dusk until dawn must be reserved for migrating and feeding wildlife as an equitable distribution of a state natural resource (“free wind”) for the greater good of the whole rural community, human and animal. Night-time curtailment would ensure safe passage for bats and night-migrating birds, and provide a reliable period of quiet for the undisturbed sleep that is vital to any being’s health.

CLICK HERE to leave a comment on the PSC’s Wind Siting Council’s docket.

Thank you all for your time and consideration on this issue. Energy independence will eventually mean grid independence, but until then the decision makers need to face the facts, take responsibility for the harm caused by their decisions, and remedy the problem.

Thanks again,

Kevin Kawula
Board member of the Rock County Conservationists, The Prairie Enthusiasts Member, Spring Valley Planning and Zoning board member, Lone Rock Prairie Nursery owner and operator, and Rock County Parks Volunteer
lonerockprairienursery@gmail.com

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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