The windpower facilities standing near Garrett County in Tucker County, W.Va., and Meyersdale, Pa., are responsible for “substantial bat kills,” according to a study released this week by the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC), a partnership of conservationists, wind industry specialists, and federal government researchers. Although the group said it wanted to continue additional studies at the sites, the owner of both wind facilities has banned the BWEC from conducting any further research at its plants here and across the nation.
The 187-page report is described as the most comprehensive study of bat/turbine collisions in the country. It examines the 44 turbines of the Mountaineer wind plant in Tucker County and the 20 wind turbines at the Meyersdale facility during a six-week period from Aug. 1 to Sept. 13, 2004. (Key findings and numerical data are summarized below.)
Florida Power and Light, which owns the two local wind plants that were the subject of the study, has cut off access to its sites in the wake of the study, Merlin Tuttle, president of Bat Conservation International, told the Charleston Gazette (W.Va.). Although BWEC wanted to conduct additional studies this summer, “at the last minute, Michael Leighton, chief operating officer of FPL Energy, decided he didn’t want to do the research,” Tuttle said this week. Tuttle’s associate, scientist Ed Arnett, led last summer’s six-week study project at the Mountaineer facility. The pair say that FPL Energy also turned down BWEC proposals to conduct research at an FPL facility in Oklahoma – at no cost to the company – and cut off access to all FPL sites across the country.
Tuttle, who said that the BWEC will continue to press for access to the local sites, is proposing to study the results of greatly slowing or turning off every other turbine and conducting a morning count each day under the turbines that ran through the night and comparing those with the ones that did not.
“FPL’s position is for us to make money, we have to have the turbines running,” company spokesperson Mary Wells said. “We feel research has to be focused on a deterrent, not on turning off turbines.”
The key findings of the BWEC report include:
•Remains of 765 bats were found by searchers at the two sites over the course of the study. After correcting for bats removed by scavengers or missed by searchers, the average number of fatalities at the two locations is estimated between 1,764 and 2,900 for the six-week period. (1,364 to 1,980 at Mountaineer, and 400-920 at Meyersdale.) These are among the highest recorded numbers of bat fatalities ever, and the report suggests that they support the contention that forested ridgelines are sites of especially high risk for bat/turbine collisions.
•Species of bats killed included the hoary bat, eastern red bat, eastern pipistrelle, silver-haired bat, little brown bat, big brown bat, and northern long-eared bat. No species on the endangered list were found.
•Timing of fatalities at the two sites was positively correlated, suggesting region-wide similarities in conditions which contribute to bat risks at wind turbines.
•Several weather and turbine variables were associated with bat mortality. At both locations, the majority of bats were killed on nights when average wind speeds and power production were low, but while turbine blades were still moving at relatively high speeds. One wind turbine at one site was non-operational during the research period. This turbine was the only one where no bat kills were detected, indicating that bats are not colliding with stationary objects.
“If the 900 or so turbines proposed are built within a 70-mile radius [of Mountaineer] prior to finding solutions, it’s very easy to extrapolate from this data that close to 60,000 bats could be killed every year,” Tuttle said. “That’s very likely not an ecologically sustainable kill rate; it’s urgent to find a solution.
“I personally like wind power,” Tuttle continued. “But I can tell you if we start killing these thousands of bats these data predict, that’s going to put a heck of a dent in the green image of wind power. We need to get out ahead of this.”
Garrett County scientist and former bat researcher Liz McDowell concurred. “It’s incredibly important and unfortunate that FPL is denying further research at the local sites,” she said. “There’s a history of great cooperation between bat scientists and the wind industry through the BWEC, and I was initially excited to see the cooperative effort that the researchers and FPL had going last year.
“However, you don’t jump into something the way we are doing with wind power in the East without doing studies to learn the ramifications. Bats are incredibly important to humans and the ecosystem as a whole; each bat consumes approximately 2,000 insects nightly, and a lactating female bat will consume up to 3,000 insects each night. In a somewhat selfish way of looking at it, that’s a lot of mosquitoes that annoy humans, and a lot of pests that can damage farmers’ crops.
“We just don’t know as much as we think we know about our ecosystems,” McDowell concluded. “A little more study wouldn’t hurt.”
The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative was founded by the American Wind Energy Association, Bat Conservation International, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (U.S. Department of Energy) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additional information on the group and its research is available on the Internet at www.batcon.org/wind/.
9 June 2005
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