Unusual alliance hopes to keep bats out of wind turbines

March 5, 2004 — Conservationists, industry officials and federal agencies are joining forces to address an unexpected side effect of renewable wind energy. Bats in some parts of the country show an unexplained tendency to collide with the blades of wind turbines.

Bat Conservation International (BCI), the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are forming an unusual alliance to learn why these collisions occur and how they can be prevented.

“I’m delighted to have this broad collaboration in solving an unexpected problem that deeply concerns us,” said Dr. Merlin Tuttle, Founder and President of BCI. “Our purpose is to work together to identify causes and solutions as quickly as possible.”

Wildlife Biologist Alex Hoar of the USFWS Northeast Regional Office said migrating bats were killed in collisions with wind-power turbines late last summer in West Virginia and Tennessee. Fatal encounters were also reported in other states, including Minnesota and Wyoming.

“Nine of the 46 U.S. bat species account for almost 90 percent of the bat deaths at wind projects and several of those species are in decline,” Hoar said. He added that no endangered bats have been reported killed, but the risk of that will increase as the renewable energy source expands.

Bats, though often ignored and falsely besmirched, are vital to the health of the environment and to many human economies. They are primary predators of night-flying insects, including many major agricultural pests, while some are important pollinators and seed dispersers. It is not at all clear why some bat species seem susceptible to collisions with the turbines, and that information likely will be critical in developing effective preventive strategies.

The cooperative effort was finalized February 19-20 at a two-day workshop in Juno Beach, Florida. Several of the world’s leading bat scientists and experts from other relevant fields met with representatives of BCI, the wind industry, and federal and state agencies to share information and discuss what is needed to understand and resolve issues involving bat mortality at wind turbines. BCI and the US Fish and Wildlife Service organized the two-day workshop, which was funded by NREL and AWEA and hosted by FPL Energy.

“The information exchanged in the technical workshop serves as the beginning of important dialogue,” said Bob Fritz, Vice President of Wind Operations for FPL Energy. “We look forward to continuing the exchange of ideas as this project moves forward.”

Several wind-energy companies (FPL Energy, G.E. Wind Energy, NEG Micon, Clipper Windpower, Atlantic Renewable Energy Corporation, U.S. Wind Force, Vestas-American Wind Technology, and Zilkha Renewable Energy) and government agencies are providing matching funds for the cooperative effort. BCI is using some of that money to hire a full-time biologist who will spend three years coordinating work related to bat interactions with wind turbines and ensuring that planned studies are formally peer-reviewed.

In addition to attempting to prevent collisions, the group will suggest methods to help site wind projects in locations that may be safer for bats. Short-term efforts may also include testing potential bat deterrents and developing tools to help document bat interactions with the turbines.

“Wind energy is green energy, requiring no mining for fuel and producing no air or water pollutants, and we want to keep it as green as possible by proactively dealing with wildlife issues in a comprehensive manner as they emerge,” said AWEA Deputy Executive Director Tom Gray. “We are very pleased to be able to join this cooperative effort to bring the best science to bear on this issue.”

Participants are hopeful that collaboration will yield solutions that support the continued growth of wind power production in concert with wildlife conservation.

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