A recent National Geographic article, “Hope for Stemming Wind Energy’s Toll on Bats” subtitled “The Great Energy Challenge,” begins with this, “Windmills—clean, quiet, simple and endlessly renewable—may be the ultimate icons of green energy. But after sundown, their whirling blades have an unintended consequence that researchers are just beginning to understand: They kill bats by the thousands.”
We’ll save the debate about a wind farm’s clean, quiet and simple characteristics as a great many folks living among them have an entirely different assessment than the NG article portrays. The endlessly renewable characteristic, presumably meaning overall performance, is discussed rather fully in other posts at this site, so we’ll just focus on what the article discusses regarding bat kills.
NG states, “Their (wind turbines) greatest impact may be on the few species of bats that migrate. Bat experts say that the problem, which peaks during migration season from July to late September, may be worse than we know …” Claiming guarded optimism, the article notes that deterrents could include speakers that “blast ultrasound to drive bats away” and selectively “shutting off windmills when bats are most active.”
First, the “sound blast” solution:
The article notes that operators would install “speaker systems on windmills to confuse and irritate bats with ultrasound noise, a frequency too high for human hearing.” “It jams them, basically,” bat expert Ed Arnett says. “We’re flooding them with white noise, which makes it uncomfortable and disorienting airspace to be in.”
And? The article states that, “So far, experimental speaker systems have reduced the number of bat fatalities 20 to 53 percent.”
But there are at least two problems with ultrasound systems:
- “First, modern windmill blades cover an area the length of a football field, too far to effectively project sound at that frequency.”
- Second, “the long-term consequences to bats and other wildlife of constant ultrasound are unclear.” (Would that include mating, foraging or other life sustaining activities?)
Note these comments from experts:
“No one’s ever been able to actively track these bats. Before they started showing up under wind turbines, they were very infrequently observed,” says Paul Cryan, a bat expert working for the U.S. Geological Survey in Fort Collins, Colorado. “The logistics of following animals at night without knowing where they’re going and where they’re going to land is tremendously difficult.”
That uncertainty makes it difficult to tell what kind of impact windmills are having on the overall population—and how effective efforts to reduce the number of bat kills are. “We don’t know if we’ve mitigated the effect of the kills, or if we’re just delaying a population crash for 10 or 15 years,” says Ed Arnett, director of programs at Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas. “But if you start adding it up over time, there’s just no way the animals can sustain this.”
But then we have the “Turn off the windmills when bats are most active” solution.
(Mr.) “Arnett has been working with Iberdrola Renewables, a large Spanish-owned wind energy provider, to selectively “feather,” or shut down, wind turbine at a wind farm in Garrett, Pennsylvania (map), when wind speeds are low. “It’s a time when we are not generating a whole lot of electricity to begin with,” says Iberdrola spokeswoman Jan Johnson.”
Wait a minute … “we are not generating a whole lot of electricity to begin with” when? The article began by saying that the peak bat migration season is from July to late September. And aren’t these the months when electricity demand is extreme? Did Iberdrola Renewables just confirm that, during the peak months of need, you can’t rely on wind units to generate “a whole lot of electricity to begin with?” I do know where I live, on the hottest days of summer, you couldn’t buy a breeze … but I didn’t think I’d ever hear …
And then, bats fly at night! Isn’t that “prime time” for wind production? Won’t limiting unit production by feathering or stopping them all together at night really cut into the already meager performance output of industrial wind?
Maybe it’s just me, but the more I read about these wind contraptions the more it seems to confirm that the only thing generated is the cash for developer’s bank accounts.
But, back to the article which notes that bats are already suffering massive kills due to a fungus spreading in the caves they inhabit. Add to that the kills from the wind turbines and the threat is tremendous. As the experts will tell you, “the cumulative impacts of mortality by wind turbines, combined with the mortality by White-Nose Syndrome causes concern that entire species may become extinct…”
As the NG article states, “Indeed, the many new wind projects across the United States—enough new windmills to power 2.4 million homes were installed last year—couldn’t have come at a worse time for bats.”
Of course, ignoring that these pitiful producers of electricity serve no real value to our energy needs and do not appear, as claimed, to reduce carbon emissions, the article ends on a positive note: “In a forthcoming study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (e-View), a journal of the Ecological Society of America, Arnett reports that during peak migration season, turning off windmills on the warm, late-summer nights bats like best—nights that don’t have that much wind to harness for energy, anyway—reduced annual bat fatalities by between 44 and 93 percent.”
But we’d like to mention the other obvious option … don’t construct the ridiculous, poor performing monstrosities in the first place?
Because, you see, one thing seems always left out of the discussion in these articles when noise and other “uncomfortable and disorienting” methods are recommended as solutions – the cumulative impact of the hundreds of thousands of turbines that will be required to meet the politically generated goals for renewable energy. When the bats are diverted from one location, and the next and the next and the next … where exactly will they call home?
The same failed logic is true of statements regarding installations in the migratory flyways of our great bird populations. It seems simple to claim the birds will just “go around” the turbines, however with the hundreds of thousands of turbines required to line the Appalachian Mountains to achieve the absurd and misguided policies put forth for industrial wind, there will be few areas of safe passage.
It’s time to stop these installations. Their existence cannot be justified, by any measure.