Friday, October 21, 2005

Holy bat genocide, batgrrl!

Today I'm reporting live from the North American Symposium on Bat Research, in Sacramento, California. Everyone who is anyone in the bat world is here to share research, hobnob, and drink excessively. Yesterday a few of us were able to sneak out in the late afternoon to see some Mexican Freetails emerge from their roosts under the nearby Yolo causeway. But I'll wait to tell you about that until I get a chance to upload my photos. The big buzz at the conference this year is about the effect of wind turbines on bats. You might have heard about this Wind power is "clean" and regenerating and good for the earth. Unless, that is, you happen to be a bat. In fact, windmills situated in eastern and northern forests are just about perfectly designed to attract and kill bats. Oops. Last night there was a meeting specifically to discuss the current situation and share information. We heard preliminary results of a study of windmills along ridges in the midwest. It turns out that over 2000 bats, mainly migrating red bats and hoary bats, were killed at a wind farm of 44 turbines, primarily during fall migration. Someone else said that proposals for over 70,000 turbines were on the table in another state. You can do the math yourself to see that it won't be good for bats. It turns out that these wind farms consist of corridors where the forest is cleared, providing an attractive edge habitat for bats to forage. In addition, the tall windmill posts look amazingly like excellent snags that bats like to use while taking a break from foraging. Except that you can't see the lethally moving blades at the top of them. I saw thermal imaging videos of bats exploring the edges of stationary or slow-moving blades, so they're definitely attracted, and curious. And I saw a video of a bat flying along and being struck by a fast moving blade, and bouncing away like a ball struck by a baseball bat. The windmills in this study were moderately sized, but the new breed of windmills going up in the US and Canada are truly stupendous, with blades that are 45 meters long. That means the total diameter of these windmills is just about the size of a football field. There is some hope in this bleak picture. It's possible that we can generate really loud ultrasonic emissions that would keep the bats from exploring the giant "snags" and keep them safe. Additionally, it appears that the highest mortality rates are during times of low wind, when it may be possible to persuade the windmill operators to slow or stop the blades since they're not generating power anyway. Much research is going on to understand what's really going on. We don't even know how many bats are passing through this area to understand the percentage of the population that is being killed or the magnitude of the concern. It's exciting to see the scientists mobilizing around this, even though the topic is gruesome and sad. I'd be interested in working on this problem in some way, to combine doing science with doing good. OK, back to learning about bats...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If only the nation's largest owner of wind energy facilities (FPL Energy) would cooperate, the research needed to better understand and hopefully minimize the impacts could go forward. Sadly, FPL has thwarted this research - see:

Also, the slaughter of bats likely involves far more than 2000 killed each year by collision with the 44 huge turbines now operating in WV. BCI's Merlin Tuttle stated that the annual mortality was likely closer to 4000 (i.e., nearly 100 bats killed per turbine per year). The 2000 bat-kill figure claimed by wind industry consultants was based on poor sampling which "wouldn't pass scientific peer review" - see: .

Large corporate entities hope to string tens of thousands of industrial wind turbines along Appalachian ridges in the next few decades - at 8 per mile, built mostly at the expense of the US treasury. Nearly all wind energy projects built or planned so far in the eastern US have not followed the USFWS guidelines for siting of wind energy facilities (e.g., adequate pre-construction risk assessments), and very few will be evaluated pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act – which provides a legal framework to help ensure a credible assessment of project impacts.

Even in the unlikely event that an effective solution could be found to prevent the ongoing "bat genocide", does the insubstantial amount of electricity that could be generated by industrializing our Appalachian ridgecrests justify the threat such massive development would have on our natural and cultural heritage? I submit that the predominately forested Appalachian ridges should not be carved up by thousands of miles of new roads (50-100 ft wide) and other wind plant infrastructure, and additionally fragmented by bulldozing 3-5 acres clearings which surround each 40-story wind turbine – see: .

Unfortunately industrial wind energy represents the equivalent of a sacred cow to many environmentalists. Too many appear to have succumbed to the myth that technology will save the day - as though producing more low-cost energy won't whet our society's appetite for more of same (the growth in demand for electricity in the US continues to increase at 2% per year). And worse, an ends-justifies-the-means rationalization is now accepted and espoused to dismiss concerns about wind energy development's impacts to wildlife, habitat and even public lands; these impacts are characterized as unfortunate but necessary collateral damage in the effort to serve the greater good - preventing global warming.

Lining Appalachian ridges with tens of thousands of goliath wind turbines would at best only slightly reduce the rate of growth in demand for other sources of electrical energy – and won’t reduce at all the emissions or health impacts associated with vehicles (transportation sector is now the largest source of energy-related CO2 in our country, and the air pollution problems of most urban areas are caused by automobiles – not powerplants).

We will need to tap wind energy in order to transition from an economy based on fossil-fuels to one which is truly sustainable. But we shouldn’t do so by abandoning the precautionary principle in a reactionary spasm of fear.

A transition of this magnitude will take several decades. We should take a few years to develop a planning and evaluation framework that helps ensure that wind energy facilities are adequately evaluated and appropriately sited.

George P. Marsh

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea that windmills harm animals is fallacy. If it were true, there would be endless stories of bats, birds, and flying monkeys getting killed by trains and cars. They are much more plentiful than windmills on the edge of forest clearings, and they travel much faster than windmill blades. They also have greater frontal surface area, the better to clobber pestilential crows and pigeons with.

Whoever believes this crap has been tricked by some rumor-mongering energy company.

7:51 AM  
Blogger batgrrl said...

Wow, thanks for all the comments! It's so exciting to see that anybody actually reads this stuff.

George, you are so correct about the sad situation with FPL denying access to their properties. And thanks so much for posting the links to the relevant articles.

I'm not sure who the other response was from, but I definitely love the reference to flying monkeys. Looks like saying "turbines don't hurt animals" might be based on solid science.... in Oz.

5:59 PM  

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