United States

United States

Industry bat study has experts puzzled -- No connection with wind turbines

When FPL Energy, the biggest US wind developer, recently announced funding for a pair of new bat study projects, industry watchers wondered what link the initiative might have between wind power and bat mortalities. As the unexpected discovery of bat kills in a wind farm in Canada has revealed (Windpower Monthly, February 2006), it is an issue of considerable mystery, debate and concern.

"I don't think you should link these projects to wind turbines," says Steve Stengel of FPL. "We just think it's in our best interest and we think it's in the wind industry's best interest to learn as much as we can about bats."

Conservation initiative

FPL began work with BHE Environmental last summer to develop its bat conservation pilot initiative. BHE, a nationally recognised leader in the biology and management of bats, made contact with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service and several state departments of natural resources, as well as academicians, private landowners and other non-governmental organisations.

Out of 27 submissions to participate in the research from seven states, FPL chose two projects. One project, in West Virginia, will evaluate the controlled burn of 400 acres and encourage female maternity roosting of the endangered Indiana bat and other bat species. The other project, in Oklahoma, will study the use of bat-friendly gates in winter roosting caves -- home to about 70,000 Myotis bats.

"There is such a limited amount known about general bat biology," says Russ Romme of BHE. "The more we learn, the more options we might have available in terms of conservation options. But the project does not have a link to any particular wind farm."

That has at least one bat expert scratching his head. Ed Arnett of the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative met with FPL officials in February 2005 to talk about bat initiatives. "They had put together a group within FLP--engineers, environmentalists and others," says Arnett. "We presented a package of options and the top priorities at that point were to compare bat interactions between moving and non-moving turbines." What the data showed, says Arnett, is that there were more bat fatalities on low-wind nights. "If we had been able to generate a few million dollars, we would have done a full study."

Solving the problem

Arnett agrees that the new projects are interesting. "We applaud the efforts," he says. "But one has to ask why you would put money there and not into the science of solving turbine-related problems as soon as possible. The longer it is until we get that data, the longer we're going to be killing bats."

FPL's Stengel realises that there are those who will be looking at the new initiatives for what they don't accomplish. "But the main thing is that we know more about bats today than we knew six months ago. And six months from now we'll know even more than that," he says.

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