Friday, October 30, 2009

Lawsuit Claims Wind Energy Project Would Kill Endangered Bats

Indiana bat roosting under shedding bark
Photo: Bat Conservation International via www.srs.fs.usda.gov

Organizations opposed to a wind energy project in West Virginia are using the Endangered Species Act to try to block the wind farms.

The claim is that endangered Indiana bats, and other bat species, are threatened by the wind-turbine towers. Bats can be killed by wind turbines when they are struck by spinning blades or get caught in the turbines' downdraft, which causes their lungs to rupture.

Plaintiff's witness Michael Gannon, a bat biologist and professor at Pennsylvania State University, said he is "very much in favor" of wind energy, but remains concerned that this project could have a devastating effect on the Indiana bat.

He also testified that when swaths of forest were clear cut to make way for turbines this past summer, important bat habitat may have been removed. (Indiana bats roost under the bark of dead trees.)

The companies involved in building the wind farm countered by saying there is no proof of the bat's presence in the area based on two mist net surveys in the area which found none of the endangered Indiana bats.

Testifying for the plaintiffs, Gannon argued these mist net surveys were poorly done, and that his own acoustic detection surveys in the area (recording bat sounds and identifying them through a computer program) did identify three Indiana bats.

Similar stories are published about the effects that these wind towers and even their warning lights might be having on the migration of birds.

It is another example of the line between what benefits people living in an area and what benefits the wildlife there, and the difficulty in finding the proper balance.

Bat Conservation International, for example, supports the development of alternative energy sources but also recognizes concerns on what the cumulative impacts of wind energy development might be on wildlife. This is especially if expansion occurs without careful planning to minimize harm to birds and bats.

Here's what they say on their site:

We believe that minimizing harmful impacts to wildlife is an essential element of “green energy” and that developers of wind energy must substantially increase efforts to improve siting and develop and test methods to reduce harm to wildlife. Additionally, state and federal agencies must increase support for responsible development of wind energy in a manner compatible with protecting wildlife resources. Cooperation, including access to study sites, funding, and transparency of information obtained, are fundamental elements needed to successfully resolve wind and wildlife conflicts. Response from industry has been mixed and while we applaud those companies and organizations working proactively with resource agency specialists and scientists to solve problems, more has to be done immediately to expand and improve the breadth of our cooperation in developing a sound, scientific basis for decision-making. This is especially true in Texas, which leads the nation in installed wind energy capacity, but woefully trails most states in regard to proactively addressing wildlife impacts.

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