The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering an industrial wind farm’s application to kill more than 60 endangered bats during the next 25 years.
Little Electricity, Many Kills
At the price of killing dozens of endangered bats, the proposed wind farm is not expected to produce much electricity. Operating at peak capacity during ideal wind conditions, the wind farm will produce about 5 to 10 percent as much power as a conventional coal or natural gas power plant. The wind farm is expected to operate at peak capacity less than a quarter of the time. Backup coal and natural gas power plants will have to continue operating even while the wind is blowing, in order to quickly ramp up and down to compensate for minute-by-minute and second-by-second wind variance. The ramping up and down of coal and natural gas backup power plants will reduce their efficiency and cause them to emit more pollution per megawatt of electricity generated than would be the case without the wind farm.
The wind farm seeks a permit to kill endangered Indiana bats and Virginia big-eared bats. Both species are endangered and experiencing rapid declines in numbers.
Although peer-reviewed studies show wind farms in the United States kill at least 1.4 million birds and bats each year, very few wind farms have applied for and received a permit to kill birds and bats. Although oil and natural gas companies pay very steep penalties on the rare occasions their operations kill protected birds or bats, wind farm operators count on the federal government looking the other way and not enforcing the Endangered Species Act and other federal environmental protection laws against them despite their substantial death tolls.
Sierra Club Expresses Concern
“The Sierra Club position is that we support wind energy ‘in appropriate sites,’ and that has to include siting considerations and engineering and operating conditions to minimize bird impacts,” said Jim Kotcon, conservation chair of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club. “We should not be providing a blank check to wind farms, and they need to operate in an environmentally conscious way in order to retain their claim as ‘green energy’.”
Kotcon predicted more wind farms will be built in the near future, which will increase the killing of birds and bats. The 1.4 million U.S. birds and bats currently killed every year by wind turbines occurs despite wind power accounting for merely 3 percent of U.S. electricity generation. As more wind farms become operational, more birds and bats will be sacrificed.
Citing the likely increase in wind farm numbers, Kotcon observed, “This will inevitably increase the pressures to site more wind farms which is why siting guidelines and continued monitoring are important and why we think it is important for the wind industry to respond positively.”
Kotcon said the federal government should evaluate all environmental impacts from all energy sources. No energy sector or industry should get a free pass, said Kotcon.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken an important step with their siting guidance, but also needs to take a hard look at the impacts of energy development from other sectors and regulations for fossil fuels need to be at least as stringent as those for renewable sources.”
Conservationists Seek More Protections
Bob Mies, executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation, said the federal government must not turn a blind eye to bat kills.
“All measures should be taken to reduce the negative impact on all wildlife,” said Mies.
“The [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] should require the energy companies to conduct and publish pre- and post-surveys at each installation. This would help decision makers understand the impact to wildlife,” Mies observed.
“Bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects. They are economically and ecologically important. While finding cleaner energy is necessary, bats should not be disregarded,” Mies explained.
Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.