Global environmental challenges
Another reason for bats to like Halloween
Something sinister is happening to bats in the United States — not only are their numbers declining due to a mysterious malady, but large numbers of them are also being caught mid-flight in the spinning wind turbines that are cropping up rapidly across the nation.
The furry flying critters may get help this month thanks to an unlikely group of conservationists, wind energy companies and the U.S. government, who say they are undertaking a big effort to lower the number of bats killed by wind turbine blades.
The group, called the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative, is studying whether stopping wind turbines during low wind conditions will reduce bat deaths at U.S. wind farms. It is also evaluating how much electricity is lost by the shutdowns.
The effort to curb bat fatalities at U.S. wind farms comes as wind power is expanding and North American bat populations are in decline due to a mysterious illness known as White-nose Syndrome.
Conservationists have long worried about the danger of birds colliding with wind turbines, though some studies have shown that the number of birds that die from hitting turbine blades is low compared with kills from vehicles or buildings. The bat study “represents a new area of investigation for the wind industry,” according to Andrew Linehan of Iberdrola Renewables, which offered its Casselman Wind Power Project site in Pennsylvania for the experiment.
According to the BWEC, bat fatalities occur mainly on nights when the wind is scarce and turbines are operating at low power. Scientists believe, therefore, that shutting down the turbines when there is little wind could significantly reduce bat deaths with only a modest reduction in power production.
The group also said that though bats are “often ignored and falsley besmirched,” they “are vital to the health of the environment” because they are pollinators and seed dispersers in addition to predators of agricultural pests.
The BWEC was formed in 2004 by Bat Conservation International, the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.