How Wind Energy Is Sucking the Life Out of Our Bat Population

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 16 | Posted May. 23, 2012

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As the United States looks to green technology to keep up with rising energy costs, wind energy has become a beacon of hope. Pennsylvania now ranks 15th in the nation in wind energy, and wind farms in our region have been honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But there are problems.

Even if all the wind farms in Pennsylvania were utilized, they’d still only make up for about 6 percent of needed electricity in the state. And, ironically, they also seem to be messing with nature: One unintended consequence of the installation of wind turbines has been a massive increase in bat deaths. Bats seem to be drawn to them, and scientists can’t figure out why. But they do know that the rapid decline in our bat population—which is crucial to general insect control—is really bad news.

“A high [bat] fatality rate was observed at a wind farm in West Virginia in 2003 and from that point on, we began seeing high fatality rates in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and then different rates across the country,” says Dr. Cris D. Hein, coordinator of the Bats and Wind Energy Program for Bat Conservation International. “So it became an issue that needed to be addressed quite rapidly, as wind development grew in the early 2000s.”

Each year, an estimated hundreds of thousands of bats are killed after colliding with, and getting shredded by, wind turbines. Last year, Pennsylvania’s 420 turbines killed an estimate 10,000 bats, according to the state Game Commission. And that has left scientists with a conundrum: Between the repurcussions of global warming and the shrinking oil supply, going green is inevitable. So how do we stop the destruction of nature—the very nature we’re attempting to save?

Hein says wind farms kill most bats during migration season, from July through the end of September—“though that does vary a little bit from site to site.” He says three species of bat are most affected: hoary bats, silver-haired bats, and red bats—all of which are migratory tree bats and play a central role in the ecosystem. Especially Pennsylvania’s.

Which means their demise is really, really bad. Why, you ask? Because, if you listen to Elton John’s groovy soundtrack to 1994’s The Lion King , there’s this thing called the Circle of Life, and it exists outside the world of the animated jungle.

So, the more people build on bats’ natural habitat and shred them to pieces, the more pesticides are used to keep the bugs away from our food supply. And the more our food suffers, the more expensive it becomes.

Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Wind Energy Association and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, then, formed the Bat and Wind Energy Cooperative in 2003 to develop “solutions to minimize or, where possible, prevent mortality of bats at wind power turbines.” Especially as the Nature Conservancy predicts up to 2,900 Pennsylvania turbines by the year 2030.

Hein says the organization ran into its first snag early on, when scientists realized they don’t really know why bats are attracted to wind turbines. Just that they are.

“We quite often would find bat carcasses at wind sites,” says Kim Lengel, the Philadelphia Zoo’s director of conservation and general curator. “There was concern and since then they have only gotten worse as the bat population in Pennsylvania and other parts of the country decreases.”

Now, BCI is doing studies to determine whether bats and wind turbines can co-exist peacefully.

With that in mind, the Bat and Wind Energy Cooperative commissioned a two-year study in Columbia and Schuylkill counties, in Pennsylvania, randomly selected 10 turbines in the areas and fitted them with bat deterrent devices—“an acoustic device,” Hein says, “that would generate a noise that would disrupt a bat’s ability to locate the turban plate”—to see if it made a difference.

In the first year of the study, 2009, researchers estimated 21 percent to 51 percent fewer bats were killed per deterrent turbine. The second year, twice as many hoary bats and four times as many silver-haired bats were killed per control turbines than at deterrent turbines during the trial period. It’s an area of research, Hein says, that’s ongoing.

“Bats are in a critical situation and Pennsylvania is right in the heart of it,” says Lengel. “People understand their role in the ecosystem, and whether that translates into ‘I want to spend more money on energy,’ is a different question.”

Hein says the country’s lag on going green may have an effect, too. The earth’s warming may have as of now unknown effects on the migratory policies of Pennsylvania’s bat population, too, which could change the way deterrent systems affect the creatures.

“I don’t think there’s anyone saying we can’t have a wind farm,” says Lengel, “but maybe the way we manage a wind farm and maybe change the certain times of year where you use deterrent devices and … others where you put your wind farm in some kind of stasis. I don’t think it’s saying no wind farms. But it’s knowing the future impact.”

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Comments 1 - 16 of 16
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1. CD in Wisconsin said... on May 23, 2012 at 10:03AM

“There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. The problem involving "going green" is not the ends of the environmentalists. It is the means to their ends. There are numerous problems with wind farms of which this article only skims the surface. It is hypocrisy to come down on oil companies when an oil spill decimates the local area bird population and then do the same thing yourself with birds and bats using wind turbines. STOP wind turbines now before they wipe out the bat and endangered bird populations. Check out Direct Carbon Fuel Cells (DCFCs) to make coal plants burn cleaner and more efficiently. And CO2 is NOT causing the planet to overheat; there has been no global increase in temps now for about fifteen years (unless you're a scientist on the alarmist side fiddling with the temperature numbers). CO2 is a necessary and beneficial component of the atmosphere for the existence and sustanance of life on this planet. Plants need it to grow.”

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2. Dave Carlson; VT said... on May 23, 2012 at 01:23PM

“Let's stick to the facts: your "clean coal" comes from mountain top removal ( in eastern mountain states.

How many bats do you think removing a mountain range the size of Delaware kills?”

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3. Anonymous said... on May 23, 2012 at 04:36PM

“They are now trying to get a special pass for killing eagles. The world has gone crazy. They have destroyed hundreds of protected birds, wrecked habitats of turtles, created noise pollution, destroyed mountaintops for windmills that will be abandoned in less than 20 years. There are already abandoned windfarms from the previous fads. Sickening to see the amount of money wasted and you STILL have to have a regular power plant standing by. The problem is wind never blows when you need it and does when you don't. Look at Britain and their failed experiments.”

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4. Morgan in WV said... on May 24, 2012 at 04:48AM

“Unfortunately, rather than reduce mountain top removal, industrial wind simply adds to the devastation of our forests with its own form of mountain top removal.

Industrial wind is an energy impostor existing only to separate taxpayers from their hard earned money. The corporations which benefit from taxpayer dollars then supply ready cash to politicians who, completing the cycle, enact legislation requiring industrial wind's use.

We should be investing in truly innovative energy technologies which can supply energy on-demand instead diverting ever shrinking taxpayer dollars to prop up this failed technology.”

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5. Anonymous said... on May 24, 2012 at 07:47AM

“Small thorium reactors will eventually become the new "green" energy, hopefully before we've destroyed all the things we claim to be trying to save. Industrial wind turbines should be banned and dismantled. No more taxpayer dollars should be channeled into these environmental disasters.”

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6. Ceal Smith, MSci. said... on May 24, 2012 at 12:50PM

“The real problem isn't so much wind, its siting and scale. Massive turbines in open environments will attract bats. The solution is distributed renewable energy generation (more smaller installations) in the built environment at the point of use that prioritizes solar PV and wildlife-friendly wind turbines. Bigger is not better. The sun and wind are everywhere so let's move away from the massive centralized energy generation model of the past century. Unfortunately corporate big wind is entrenched and will fight doing the right thing for the environment.”

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7. CD in Wisconsin said... on May 24, 2012 at 02:47PM

“Ceal Smith: The fact that wind and solar are everywhere is problematic for these forms of energy because they require massive amounts of land to collect the energy from them. If we are to even attempt to acquire significant amounts of our energy from them it could very well require the clearing of forest lands and building wind turbines near wildlife preserves endangering the wildlife there. And how exactly does one build a 'wildlife-friendly turbine?' And how do you deal with the complaints from people living near them regarding the noise pollution the turbines produce? This has made the residents' property virtually worthless as I understand it. Besides all these problems, solar and wind are weak, low-density sources of energy that just are not worth the cost to build. Fourth-generation nuclear like the Liquid Fluoride Thorium-fuelled Reactor (LFTR) provide far more clean energy while mitigating many of today's problems with nuclear power. Check out”

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8. Anonymous said... on May 24, 2012 at 03:58PM

“The headline sucks the life out of the truth, which is yet to be determined.”

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9. Moot said... on May 24, 2012 at 06:43PM

''Between the repurcussions of global warming and the shrinking oil supply, going green is inevitable. ''

''Shrinking'' oil supply?!! Where have you been the last decade?”

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10. karen kull said... on May 24, 2012 at 07:07PM

“This was something I read in an article in a chemical trade publication three years ago whilst I was working at Rohm & Haas - now Dow Chemical. The article stated 10's of millions of bats were perishing - dropping dead in or very near to wind turbine sites. This has upset me for several years. When will human beings STOP thinking only about themselves. Upsetting the balance of an already fragile & weak ecosystem is having & will continue to have gigantic consequences. It's reprehensible for human kind to be so blatantly single focussed & selfish. We are harming the earth & our environments in a devastating way. It's seriously a deadly decision to ignore the effects of our careless technology.”

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11. Anonymous said... on May 24, 2012 at 08:32PM

“Wind turbines are turning the outdoors into someplace nobody will want to go. The energy is not enough to shut down coal plants, and coal imports are rising to China and Japan. Why is this allowed if we are trying to clean the air? There is no master plan for reducing C02, only to pay the 3rd world countries not to develop. There is no reason to ruin Maine's mtns. an lakes so a bunch of ex Enron crooks can get richer.”

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12. theCork said... on May 26, 2012 at 11:54PM

“I'd prefer keeping eagles and bats. Natural gas does not kill them. Let's use that instead.”

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13. paul brooks said... on May 27, 2012 at 02:19PM

“"As the United States looks to green technology to keep up with rising energy costs,"

Hilarious! So-called green energy is costly and unreliable and destroys the environment, also destroys jobs as drives up the cost of energy to the private sector.

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14. John West said... on May 27, 2012 at 03:17PM

“I will be dancing in the streets when Pennsylvania is going nuts with insect infestations and general pestulance. Then they won't even be allowed to spray evil pesticides either ... now will they.

It is a very confusing and stupid world that the green people live in. They are their own worst enemies. The problem is that they are giving us the same grief and WE DON'T WANT IT.

Stop the windmills today. If you have a rifle ... shoot some holes in only one of the blades ... that will cause an unbalance and they will self-destruct. Get busy.

Something must be done to save the birds, the bats, and keep insect populations down. Quick method .... get rid of the wind mills.”

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15. LeeNhan said... on May 22, 2013 at 11:31PM

“I have one method for solving integrity of energy no storage needed without losing landscape and environment;My energy model, adapting to green buildings;Proper, sea, islands, rural areas;With characteristic continuous operation should not need expensive storage systems and cumbersome”

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16. vanessahill70 said... on Nov 17, 2015 at 05:27AM

“I must admit that you share one of the best information I have read.”


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