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SOMERSET -— With wind being one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world, environmentalists are warning that winged creatures are increasingly endangered by turbines.
In September an endangered Indiana bat was found dead at the North Allegheny Wind Farm that straddles Cambria and Blair counties. That is a 35-turbine farm operated by Duke Energy Renewables. The company shut down the turbines at night during the bat migration season.
In January the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will publish new guidelines telling wind farm operators how to measure the danger to wildlife at new sites and how to monitor existing sites. The guidelines, which have been issued in draft form, will be voluntary, Valerie Fellows, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an email.
“The final guidelines are under review with the OMB (Office of Management and Budget), but we plan to finalize them and publish them in January,” she said.
Dan Lagiovane, project communications manager for EverPower Wind Holdings, Pittsburgh, said the company will review the proposed guidelines to see if they will have any impact on Twin Ridges Wind Farm. EverPower has started site work for a 170-megawatt wind farm on 7,700 acres in Southampton, Northampton, Larimer and Greenville townships in Somerset County.
Scientists estimate that 33,000 to 111,000 bats will die each year by 2020 just in the mountainous region of the mid-Atlantic Highlands. The study, published in the March “Science” magazine, estimates the bats save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year.
“People often ask why we should care about bats,” said Paul Cryan, a U.S. Geological Survey research scientist and one of the study’s authors. “This analysis suggests that bats are saving us big bucks by gobbling up insects that eat or damage our crops. It is obviously beneficial that insectivorous bats are patrolling the skies at night above our fields and forests – these bats deserve help.”
Birds are killed when they collide directly with the wind turbines, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Statistics show that more birds are killed by cats and by flying into windows than by wind turbines.
“The Service is working very hard to protect birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” Fellows said. “It is the Service’s responsibility to prevent birds from negative impacts due to wind power development, but work with developers to select the best locations and management practices to reduce conflicts and keep moving forward with renewable energy development.”
Many more bats than birds are killed by turbines. They are killed by the blades and by pressure changes due to the sweep of the blades. Bats can detect moving objects, like blades, but can’t detect the swath of low pressure left behind turning blades. Bats are already under threat from white-nose disease.
Wind plants with a combined output of more than 8,000 megawatts were under construction in the third quarter of 2011, the most since 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The U.S. now has more than 43,000 megawatts of wind capacity, double the level three years ago.
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