May 11, 2016

Bats, birds a chief concern with wind turbines

By Judy Dolgos-Kramer | May 10, 2016 |

Environmentalists are concerned about the effect of the 40 wind turbines proposed by Atlantic Wind in Penn Forest Township.

Birds are often the greatest victims of wind turbines. Susan Gallagher, chief naturalist at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center is concerned for the birds that not only nest in the area, but those that pass on the yearly migration through Carbon County.

According to Gallagher, many species including birds are very sensitive to any disturbance to their habitat. Pipelines, overhead power lines and wind turbines all are examples of the types of construction that fragment habitat.

“A great example of an effect on migration would be the golden eagle,” Gallagher said. “Golden eagles are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but they do not nest anywhere in Pennsylvania. They do however migrate yearly through Carbon County and they roost, rest and hunt. Once the natural habitat is destroyed, there becomes a missing link in the migration route.”

According to Gallagher once there is a change, chances are that the birds would never come back to the area.

“Over the years,” said Franklin Klock of the CCEEC, “More and more dangers are added to the migration routes of various birds and other animals. Each detour adds more danger, just one more thing.”

“You really need to look at where you are putting a wind turbine,” said Gallagher. “A mountain ridge is not going to be the best place for the environment.”

Gallagher has a special affinity for bats. Since 2010 the Northern long-eared bat has suffered a huge decrease in population due to white-nose syndrome and has now been given federal protection as an endangered species.

“Migrating bats and wind turbines do not have a symbiotic relationship,” Gallagher said. “The bats seek out the highest structure, it is believed that it is part of sending out a mating signal. Unfortunately, bats have very low pressure in their lungs. They are drawn to the turbines, but when they get within the vicinity, their lungs explode due to the change in pressure.”

Klock said the numbers of bats killed in this manner is estimated at around 50 bats per year per turbine.

“With about 800 turbines currently operating in Pennsylvania, that’s 40,000 bats per year,” Klock said.

Klock pointed out that those numbers might be low because researchers are going on numbers of bats recovered at sites, and this would not include bats that are not found because of predation.

Gallagher said that there have been suggestions made to the industry to protect the bat population which include turning the turbines off in the evening in the fall when mating and migration are a bigger factor. But she admits that this would do nothing for any of the other environmental impacts she sees as a result of the project.

“If this project is to go through I would be very interested in what types of environmental studies are done, who is doing them and when they are being done,” Gallagher said. “Because certain types of animals and birds that use this habitat are not in the area certain times of year.”

Craig Poff, director of business development for Iberdrola Renewables, an umbrella company for Atlantic Wind, said Iberdrola has been instrumental in bat studies and in implementing sound practices to protect the bat population.

Information is available on the company’s website.

“It is too soon to even begin this discussion,” Poff said. “When it comes to that point we will look to the agencies requiring the studies and we will comply with their requests.”

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