When Wind Turbines and Wildlife Collide – A Look Into Wind Energy Farms and Their Effect on Bats

Social IssuesEnvironment

  • Author Cory Sober
  • Published January 10, 2012
  • Word count 586

With government and environmental groups pushing the "green" agenda, more and more alternative energy sources are being implemented throughout the world. Three widely used alternative energy methods are solar panels, wave energy and wind turbines. However, there are ongoing research studies and field trials trying to find the next great energy source to power our civilization.

Wind power has proven to be incredibly popular, but as of late, it has come under scrutiny. Although wind turbines are great renewable energy producers, they are having a negative environmental impact. Many dead bats have been found in and around wind farms. Their alarming discovery has sparked new studies by veterinarians, wildlife and ecology specialists, and energy companies aimed at determining cause of death and the possibility of further harm caused by wind turbines.

Wind turbines across the nation are closed down from time to time when they endanger the lives of bats. One such closure recently happened when the US Fish and Wildlife Service found a dead bat underneath a turbine. The Indiana Bat is a nearly extinct species and when they are found dead due to non-natural causes, the federal commission gets involved and puts an end to the problem.

Bats are nocturnal creatures, coming out at night to feed. They fly and hunt by echo-location, which has a range of around sixty feet. When they encounter the fast moving blades of a wind turbine, they are unable to safely maneuver and are often times hit and killed.

Even when bats aren’t directly hit by wind turbine blades, they can still be killed. As wind turbine blades spin, they create a pressure differential. Bats are not able to survive this rapid pressure change, and if they fly through this, it causes their internal organs to explode. This phenomenon is known as Barotrauma and it has been a proven cause of death through autopsies of bats found near wind turbines.

Although bat deaths have raised concerns over the safety of wind energy farms, there may be a way to prevent such occurrences. There are studies being conducted to determine if noise can be used to deter bats from entering wind farms. Thus far, most studies have shown that acoustic sounds can reduce bat fatalities by upwards of 70%. Hopefully wind farms will take action to prevent harm to wildlife that share the skies. If the general public is to get behind the alternative energy sources that are being investigated, there needs to be proof that the benefits outweigh any costs. If this is the case, bat deaths and any other ill effects to wildlife, must be stopped.

As with any new development, alternative energy production is under public scrutiny. It is unfortunate that wind energy has had ill affects on wildlife. On the other hand, traditional energy sources have time and again proven to be far more harmful. Most recently a big oil spill in the Gulf Coast of the United States & Mexico caused much alarm as gallons of crude oil was spilled into the ocean. Despite this catastrophe, millions of people still rely heavily on oil to power daily lives, commutes, and more. It’s interesting to see stoppages of this type when it comes to alternative energies, but not the same reaction when oil spills threaten larger areas.

Bat deaths are continually looked at in regards to investigating energy that is being harnessed by wind turbines across the world. If the deaths can be ceased, look for wind to be the biggest alternative energy in years.

Cory Sober is the IT Director for UpWind Solutions, a full-service operations and maintenance provider for utility-scale wind farms. He is part of a highly trained team focused on maximizing long-term productivity of wind turbines, and as a result, delivering a higher return on investment for wind energy projects.

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