How many birds and bats are killed by the rotating blades of wind turbines?
How many such deaths are acceptable to increase our electricity supply?
Those are two unresolved questions for Pennsylvania’s wind-power industry.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission, which is charged with protecting all of the state’s wildlife, will announce proposed rules aimed at reducing bird and bat kills this month.
Meanwhile, biologists and others who have studied the issue say they are skeptical about industry-sponsored studies that show few or no bird-and-bat deaths attributable to wind turbines. They say that the studies have not been peer-reviewed and that the wind industry has put roadblocks in the way of independent research.
Brian Mangan, who spoke at the Wildlife and Wind Energy Conference at Kutztown University on Dec. 2, said wind-farm owners might not want to know the true extent of the kills.
“We need to know the body count,” said Mangan, who is director of the environmental program at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre. “Are the low numbers due to low sampling efforts?”
Paul Kerlinger of Curry & Kerlinger in Cape May, N.J., is a consultant who is controversial among ornithologists. Curry & Kerlinger bills itself as a consultant to the wind industry on wildlife issues, and its Web site downplays the impact of turbines on birds and bats. FPL Energy, which owns five wind farms in Pennsylvania, has been one of Kerlinger’s clients.
Kerlinger declined to comment.
In 2004, FPL Energy banned researchers from Texas-based Bat Conservation International from further visits to its Mountaineer wind farm in West Virginia and its Meyersdale wind farm in Pennsylvania. Those sites were two of the first ridgetop farms in the East.
BCI researchers initially were welcomed by FPL, a division of Florida Power & Light, but then they discovered extensive bat kills. The group recommended changing the angle at which the turbine blades face the wind, which the company refused to do.
Frank Maisano, a spokesman for the wind industry in the Mid-Atlantic region, confirmed that the company refused to take the advice and was dismissive of the controversy.
“They say that all the time,” Maisano said. “FPL makes decisions on how they want their sites to operate because of their landowners and things like that.”
Maisano said the industry is proud of its record in working with wildlife groups and agrees that more research needs to be done on how wind turbines affect bats and birds.
Albert Manville, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who attended the conference, said wind-farm sites should be studied for wildlife impacts for two or three years before turbines are built.
Some scientists suggested that study results might be skewed because carcasses of birds and bats are hauled away by other animals.
“Just because nothing is found dead doesn’t mean nothing was killed,” Manville said.
Some of the nation’s most prized birds, including American bald eagles, are endangered by ridgetop wind turbines, according to Christopher Farmer, North American monitoring coordinator at the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Berks County.
While some species of birds typically fly above or below the level of the turbine blades, others, including falcons and bald eagles, “spend most of their time in the zone of danger,” he said.
Kim Van Fleet, a staff biologist with Audubon Pennsylvania, said raptors, especially golden eagles, use the state’s mountain ridges during the spring and fall migrations.
Van Fleet urged that brownfield sites – old industrial land that is targeted for redevelopment – be used for wind farms.
By David DeKok
Of The Patriot-News
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding