Wind-energy facilities are killing alarming numbers of bats across North America and Europe. Scientists have firmly documented those fatalities. Preventing those bat kills is a more difficult challenge.
The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC), led by BCI, is testing hypotheses and exploring promising new directions, including a major effort to identify wind-energy sites that are least risky for wildlife. Scientists are also conducting pioneering research on possible acoustic deterrents that might steer bats away from danger.
But science alone is not enough – industry, politics and public relations are key factors in protecting bats from the enormous spinning turbines that are rapidly appearing on the landscape from coast to coast.
BWEC research concluded, for example, that 44 turbines on a forested ridge top in West Virginia killed between 1,364 and 1,980 bats in a single six-week period in 2004. And the industry estimates wind-energy installations could increase by 50 percent in 2008 and by 150 percent by 2010. Unless real solutions are found quickly, this could prove a disaster for bats. The industry’s response has been mixed.
Almost immediately after the Cooperative reported the results of its 2004 field season, which confirmed the extent of bat kills, permission was withdrawn for BWEC scientists to continue critical research at two wind energy centers.
That forced BWEC Coordinator Ed Arnett of BCI to completely refocus and redesign the cooperative’s research program on very short notice. One major new direction is pre-siting risk assessment: a systematic attempt to identify potential wind-energy sites that pose minimal hazards to bats.
Fortunately, some “green-energy” companies recognize the value of working with scientists to understand and solve wind-energy threats to bats. PPM Energy, a Scottish firm with U.S. headquarters in Portland, Oregon, has offered its full cooperation for BWEC to study several proposed wind sites in the eastern United States. With the help of PPM Energy’s Sam Enfield and Andy Linehan, the BWEC team quickly designed and implemented the most extensive study ever conducted to evaluate the use of acoustic detectors to predict bat kills at a proposed wind farm.
Two seasons into this five-year study, we have a great deal of important data awaiting intensive analysis. At this very preliminary stage, some intriguing observations are emerging, but their importance for wind-energy siting decisions is not yet clear. Much work remains.
BCI members can read the full story of Bats and Wind Energy research and challenges in the Fall 2006 issue of BATS magazine.