Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wind turbine timing saves bats

The popular wisdom tells us that bats can "see" anything in the dark, thanks to their remarkable sonar. Well, apparently, that doesn't apply to wind turbines.

The mix between clean energy generating wind mills (or wind turbines) and these tiny winged mammals has been deadly. A study performed by the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (yes, that is for real...trust me, I could not make that up) found that as wind power has increased in popularity, so have bat fatalities. Turning the wind turbines off at night if the wind is low (bats' favorite time to be out and about) resulted in a nearly 79% drop in the number of bat deaths.

(Okay, forgive me here, folks. I like bats. I really do. I had a big barn in Pennsylvania that was partially leased to a neighbor, and when I found out he was planning to put moth balls in the lofts to get rid of the bats, I threatened to remove all of his stuff and revoke the lease! I used to watch the bats come out at dusk...so I really do like them. But somehow, with this story, I keep getting images of old Batman episodes and Batman and Robin coming out of the Batcave and hitting into a giant windmill placed there by the Joker or Penguin or some other arch enemy...doesn't help that the sources I'm using also talk about bird deaths, and that brings to mind Robin...Anyhow, forgive me if I stray, because I know this is an important topic but I needed to warn you in case my subconscious gets the better of me and inserts a pun or two...)

Bats are critical to the environment, as a primary control on the insect population. No bats, lots more bugs. And clean energy is critical to our environment, too. Wind turbines are an excellent and affordable choice for energy. We need to get beyond oil. So the deadly clash between the two is a major concern for both environmentalists and clean energy producers.

Scientists are studying the reason for the problem, as they aren't sure whether the bats can't see the spinning blades, which can reach speeds of up to 180 miles per hour, or if they are attracted to the shiny metal in the blade itself. There is also some concern that the movement of air around the blades may be interfering with the bats' sonar or even affecting their lungs because of the significant changes in air pressure around a turbine (think divers and the bends.)

Experiments are being conducted to create sonar barriers or physical barriers around the blades to protect the bats. For now, turning the turbines off on low wind night seems to be the best choice, and one that most clean energy producers are willing to try.