3/2/09 W is for Wildlife: What we now know about bats and industrial wind turbines, and a candid look at how post-construction bat and bird mortality studies are being conducted in the Forward Energy wind farm.
W is for Wildlife: What we now know about bats and industrial wind turbines, and a candid look at how post-construction bat and bird mortality studies are being conducted in the Forward Energy wind farm.
UPDATE: March 7, 2009: Click here to read latest story on bats and wind turbines.
RED ALERT: This week, Wisconsin State Senator, Jeff Plale, (D-South Milwaukee) will introduce a bill which could hand over all siting of wind turbines to the PSC. The PSC approved the siting of scores of turbines alongside the Horicon Marsh. This bill could giving them the power to continue to approve such environmentally disastrous siting. After you read this post, please go to the phone and call your legislators and ask them not to support Senator Plale's turbine reform bill.
Click on the image above to learn more about Wisconsin's Horicon Marsh, the largest cattail marsh in the U.S, and about the Forward Energy wind farm sited alongside it. [You can also see the video by clicking here]
The developer wanted to site turbines just 1.2 miles from the marsh.
Environmental groups asked for setbacks of at least four miles.
In its final decision, the PSC chose two miles as the setback and agreed to reconsider the 1.2 mile set-back some time in the future.
LOOKING FOR A GREEN JOB?
In August of 2008, one of the 'green jobs' to be had involved walking six acres around five industrial scale wind turbines in the Forward Energy wind farm, looking for dead bats and birds.
The job paid $10.00 an hour plus mileage.
Click on the image above to see a video shot by some one who has this green job, telling us what her mornings near turbines were like, and gives us an candid look at just how post-construction avian and bat mortality studies are being conducted. UPDATE: Since we posted this, the video has been pulled. However, there is a transcription of the video below.
The video is called, "What has been keeping me busy?" and does not appear to anything but an amiable personal video intended to update friends and interested parties. The dull roaring in the background is the turbine sound. It is sometimes faint, but always present.
The image below is the site map of the project. The two blue circles are the locations of specific turbines she mentions.
We offer this transcript incase the video gets pulled:
It is now five am.
I'm going to show you what I've been doing lately that I haven't been on line. It's been awhile since I've been here, but I want to show you what I'm doing so you'll understand.
I don't know if you can hear the noise behind me but I am at..... I will show you... hold on a minute... we're going to go up, and we're going to go up, and we're going to go up, and you see those blades?
I am at the wind turbines.
There's one over there you can see a little better. And I am looking for dead birds and bats. And they've been finding bats lately. So we got some areas to walk and check for dead birds. And, let's go.
There's more wind turbines. More wind turbines. I'm checking the roads to see if there's any dead birds or bats. The sunrise is starting to come. Pretty.
But I get up at three thirty, every morning. Seven days a week. Get paid ten dollars an hour plus mileage. Let's look over here. Let's see if we can see those wind turbines over there. Just fields and fields of them.
So let's start looking. And if I find anything, I'll let you know.
There's a turbine I am checking. And what we have to do is, they have plowed or mowed areas for us to walk and we check both sides, and they go -- oh, four or five of them that we have to walk down and check for the birds. They have been finding a lot of bats. So that's what we're looking for.
Look at the sunrise. Beautiful. So peaceful out here in the morning.
Well we didn't find anything here, so we head to our next turbine. See you when we get there.
All right. We are at wind turbine 83. That last one we were at was 96. So we're going to check around here and see what we can find. And there's a lot more turbines up in this area so I can show you those.
They're going to build a hundred and thirty-six turbines...... the hill is just filled with them here....
there's one there, a whole field of them over there.
We're going to be looking in corn this time. Last time we were looking in soy. So let's head to the cornfields.
That turbine is pretty close to this one. Look at those blades. We're right under them. Yes, we're right in the middle of a corn field. This is sweet corn.
You can tell by tassels on top. They're whiter. Field corn is a darker brown. So this is sweet corn we're in. And you can hear the birds chirping.
And there's the wind turbine I'm checking right now.
I got to walk all the way down there. Actually at each turbine, you're walking six acres. Getting a lot of exercise.
There's my next turbine.
I know I look a mess. It's 95 percent humidity out there and right now it's 84 degrees. And with my hat on I was sweating up a storm. But I need to call Steve. He's a gentleman from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. And he's the one that hired me. They're doing a study for bats and birds by the wind turbines.
And we're also working with Forward Wind Project. And they're really nice guys.
OK I got a couple of more turbines to check-- and I'm going to say good-bye now and unless I find something I'll see you later. Buteverybody have a great day and we'll talk to all of you later. Bye.
Good morning everyone..... I'm out doing another search this morning, and I'm actually having a lot of fun. Getting a lot of exercise. Walking six acres each turbine, times five, it's 30 acres I'm walking. So I'm getting a lot of exercise and I'm enjoying it.
I got a bat yesterday but my camera battery was dead so, sorry, couldn't get it to you. But, um, the wind turbines do not hit the bats with the blades.
If you're squeamish, and don't like to hear things happening to animals, skip the next 30 seconds.
What's happening to the bats is they are getting sucked in and their insides are imploding. So. Yeah.
They are not getting hit by the turbines, they are getting sucked in by them and their insides just explode... imploding. So that's what's happening to those bats.
I haven't found any regular birds yet, but when I do they'll check those out too. They'll autopsy those.
The gentleman I'm working for, Steve, is working on his masters at the University of Madison. And his roommate who he's living with now is also going to school for wildlife...... preservation.
And he's doing a study on bats, so he's the one who did the autopsies on the bats and told us what is happening, actually. He is not finding any blade marks on them.
They kind of figured that's what's happening, because of what's happening, they found out they are imploding when they did the autopsy.
Yeah. How weird.
They are just getting sucked in and the pressure is so much that that's what's happening.
So I am on my way to my next turbine, and if I do find anything today, I'll show you.
Researchers say a pressure drop created by turbines can cause bats' lungs to burst
March 1, 2009 by Gerry Smith in Chicago Tribune
The mystery was alarming to wildlife experts: large numbers of dead bats appearing at wind farms, often with no visible signs of injury.
Researchers now think they know one reason: Wind turbines cause bats' lungs to explode. More specifically, a sudden drop in air pressure created by the blades can cause fatal internal hemorrhaging, researchers at the University of Calgary said in a study.
The toll taken on bats highlights a delicate balance facing the wind industry-how to be "green" without causing other unintended environmental consequences.
Some of the best sources of wind-coastlines and mountaintops-also happen to be in the path of migratory birds. Wind farms installed on mountain ridges also have triggered fears over soil erosion, and some environmental groups-citing land use laws designed to keep Mother Nature unspoiled-have fought proposed wind farms.
With the deaths causing a stir among wildlife advocates, an unusual partnership called the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative is seeking ways to strike a delicate balance between protecting the bat population and meeting the nation's growing demand for renewable energy.
"We support the development of clean energy, but to make it 'green' we have to do everything we can to minimize the environmental impacts," said Ed Arnett, project coordinator for the cooperative.
Some wind experts dismiss fears over turbines' impact on wildlife. They point to a 2007 study by the National Academy of Sciences that concluded far more birds and bats have been killed in collisions with vehicles and buildings than in collisions with turbines.
But wildlife experts are particularly protective of bats because the mammals have low reproductive rates, meaning even small numbers of fatalities can affect their populations.
"Once you start taking a small number of bats out of the general population, the risk of endangerment or extinction vastly increases," said Joseph Kath, the endangered species project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Thus far, there have been no reports of endangered or threatened bat species being killed at wind farms in North America. Most bats felled by turbines have been migrating species like hoary bats, eastern red bats and silver-haired bats.
The concern over bats is fairly recent. Since the 1980s, when wind farms were in their infancy, wildlife biologists have been more worried about protecting birds from spinning turbines. Bat deaths at wind farms largely went unnoticed.
Then in 2003, researchers stumbled upon an estimated 1,400 to 4,000 bat carcasses at the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in West Virginia and recorded extensive bat fatalities at wind farms in Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Wildlife experts were taken by surprise.
"These are unforeseen circumstances," Arnett said. "Most of us didn't anticipate this being a problem."
Since then, the chorus of voices calling for greater protection for bats at wind farms has grown louder. Last summer, the American Society of Mammalogists called for wind farms to avoid "bat hibernation, breeding and maternity colonies."
Still, the explanation for why bats with no external signs of injury were being found dead at wind farms was largely a mystery until August.
That's when researchers at the University of Calgary reported that 90 percent of bats felled near one wind farm showed signs of barotrauma, or fatal internal hemorrhaging, of the lungs that occurred because of drops in air pressure near the spinning blades.
The condition affects bats more than birds because bird lungs are more rigid and can withstand sudden changes in air pressure, according to the study, which was published in the journal Current Biology.
The study may explain why bat fatalities often outnumber bird fatalities at wind farms. In Illinois, it is estimated three times as many bats (93) as birds (31) died during a year at the 33-turbine Crescent Ridge Wind Farm in Bureau County, a consulting firm reported last year.
The firm, Curry & Kerlinger, deemed the findings "small and not likely to be biologically significant."
But given a decline in several bat species in the eastern United States, "the possibility of population effects, especially with increased numbers of turbines, is significant," the National Academy of Sciences study stated.
Illinois is expected to increase the number of wind farms dramatically in coming years. The state has mandated that 25 percent of its electricity be generated by renewable resources by 2025, with about 75 percent of that renewable energy coming from wind. Illinois has 915 megawatts of capacity installed with the capacity to build 9,000 megawatts.
Arnett said the cooperative doesn't discount the Calgary study but has conducted studies of its own, using night-vision cameras, that found bats also have been killed by collisions with turbine blades.
There are several theories as to why bats might be flying close to turbines. Some think bats might confuse turbines with large, dead trees because many species found dead use such trees to roost. Others hypothesize that turbines may attract insects, which attract hungry bats.
The cooperative has been looking for ways to bring down the death toll, including studies of the effectiveness of ultrasonic sounds that would deter bats and curtailing the spinning of turbines until it's too windy for bats to fly.
Arnett said the latter step may have some economic consequences. But he expressed confidence that the wind industry can continue to grow without harming bat populations.
"It's not choosing one or the other," Arnett said. "It's finding a balance, and I'm convinced we can solve this problem."
"At over 32,000 acres in size, Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States. The marsh provides habitat for endangered species and is a critical rest stop for thousands of migrating ducks and Canada geese. It is recognized as a Wetland of International Importance, as both Globally and State Important Bird Areas and is also a unit of the Ice Age Scientific Reserve."
"While this marsh in renown for its migrant flocks of Canada geese, it is also home to more than 290 kinds of birds which have been sighted over the years. Due to its importance to wildlife, Horicon Marsh has been designated as a "Wetland of International Importance" and a "Globally Important Bird Area." Horicon Marsh is both a state wildlife area and national wildlife refuge"
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, it its decision to allow Invenergy's Forward energy project to be sited just 2 miles from the marsh, acknowledged studies which confirmed that "birds visit the wind farm site very heavily during migration seasons, and that the proximity to the marsh could cause greater than average avian mortality." (Docket 9300-CE-100 PSC Ref#37618, p.16)
But the financial concerns of the wind developer trumped the protection of birds and bats, citing the wind developer's fast-approching production tax credit deadline and concluding that more comprehensive pre-construction avian studies were not necessary or in the public interest. (Docket 9300-CE-100 PSC Ref#37618, P. 17)
The PSC also gave the developers a pass on bat studies, though one of the largest bat hibernacula in the state is located not far from the marsh.
The wind developer's paid witness, testified that pre-construction bat studies had not been required elsewhere, but at the Buffalo Ridge project in Minnesota no relationship between bat activity and mortality could be observed. (p.21)
The PSC agreed, and no pre-construction bat surveys were done. Instead, the PSC offered this trade off:
"The commission... finds that post-construction mortality research will advance scientific knowledge about the potential impacts of wind farms upon bat poplulations"
They now a have plenty of dead Wisconsin bats to work with.