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Scientists call for more research cash -- Bat deaths higher than expected

Wind turbines cause more harm to bats that anyone previously expected, say scientists and advocates who have studied the problem this summer. The conclusion comes after research conducted at the 30 MW Meyersdale wind farm in Pennsylvania, built last year, and at the 66 MW Mountaineer wind farm in West Virginia, built in 2002. Both projects use NEG Micon 1.5 MW turbines.

The consensus of opinion of those involved in the work is that the extent of the problem has not been revealed earlier because monitors have not been trained to look for bats. The dead animals are small and difficult to see, say scientists. Carcasses are not always whole before they hit the ground and unless monitoring occurs nightly, animals will not be found due to scavenging.

high numbers

Carcass numbers were considerably higher than expected in searches at Meyersdale, says Wally Erickson of West Inc, one of the companies involved in the research. Similar findings emerged at the Mountaineer site. Erickson refuses to discuss specifics.

The projects are owned by FPL Energy. The company says analysis of the "vast amount" of data gathered is now being conducted. Field research concluded at the Mountaineer site in September. FPL's Steve Sengel calls the science "robust."

Tom Kunz of Boston University, one of the nation's premier bat researchers, seeks more help from FPL. "The critical question is how are they are being killed," he says. Kunz is an expert in thermal imaging of bats, a technique which allows bats to be "seen" in the dark by detecting the heat of their bodies. While FPL allowed the use of equipment to study moving turbines, and saw bats killed by the moving blades, the company refused to shut down a turbine to study what happened once it was stationary.

"We know there is impact with the blades. We can only make predictions that the impact could be less if the turbines were not moving," he says. "We needed the opportunity to do the study, which we were denied. I don't think the industry wants us to find that out. They have been very resistant. They simply resist the idea." Pennsylvania's state environmental secretary, Kathleen A McGinty, says the wind industry will be expected to comply with scientific research requests.

Bat Conservation International's Merlin Tuttle says the bat kills at Mountaineer were likely as high this year as last, if not higher. "We had the funds to watch one turbine at night to do thermal imaging. One turbine a night is not much. We did make enormous progress this year," says Tuttle "But I fear we're not moving fast enough relative to the rate of new construction in sensitive locations. So far, support for the research hasn't been sufficient."

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