Despite proof that birds and bats are being killed by the rotating blades of wind turbines, a new state report says more studies are needed to determine if anything should be done about it.
The report, compiled by researchers at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, recommended that the state should develop a map that could identify sensitive areas of the state where wind farm developers could take added precautions to cut down on avian deaths.
And, the report suggests the state could fund a major study of bird and bat populations before and after turbines are built in various areas of the state.
But, the report did not call for any immediate action by the state.
”Until the impacts are better understood, regulatory action for wildlife protection is not recommended,” the report noted.
The conclusion was a disappointment to House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, who called for the study more than a year ago.
”I think it was disappointing,” Currie said Monday. ”They didn’t give us any roadmap.”
The report comes as Illinois continues to be hotbed of wind farm development. Scores of the tall, spindly turbines are spreading across the state and plans to build additional facilities are on tap in McLean, Henry, Marshall, Lee and Stark counties.
By the end of next year, Illinois wind farms are expected to be producing about 1,200 megawatts of power, the report noted.
Currie called for the study, saying it could help the state determine if there are better or worse places to build wind farms in terms of how they affect avian mortality rates.
The results of the report mirror a 2005 study by the federal government that said scientists have not yet drawn definitive conclusions about the effects wind turbines have on bird and bat populations.
According to the study, wind farm companies estimate that, on average, two birds are killed by each modern wind turbine in a year’s time. This estimate is based on studies at widely-spaced projects around the country.
Bats, however, have a higher mortality level, the study noted.
The report noted that during a year-long study of bird and bat fatalities at the 33-turbine Crescent Ridge wind project in Bureau County, about 31 birds and 93 bats were killed after colliding with the turbines.
Under one theory, the report notes that bats may fail to detect turbines acoustically or visually.
Alternatively, according to a study of bat behavior near a West Virginia wind farm, bats may actually be attracted to wind turbines.
Currie said she is considering additional legislation aimed at addressing bird and bat deaths, but hadn’t determined what that might be. She said she wants more specific information from researchers concerning the issue.
Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the report sheds light on the problems with all power generating facilities and could serve as a first step in helping wind farm developers address the issue of bird and bat deaths.
”I think its good timing,” said Darin, pointing to the numerous projects that are in various stages of development.
Darin said he believes the negative effects of wind turbines on wildlife are likely much less than that of coal-fired power plants.
”It’s just that you don’t see the carcasses at the base of a coal plant,” Darin said.
By Kurt Erickson
17 September 2007