Wind Farms and Animals
Comments and Considerations
With global warming and climate change a major international environmental concern — and increasingly a fundamental cause of change in wildlife habitats and geographic distribution — a growing number of governmental officials, scientists, environmentalists, conservation biologists, and ordinary citizens are seeking environmentally clean, alternative ways of generating electrical energy. That’s because continually enlarging electrical energy demands in the United States, and other industrialized nations, exert more and more demands on electrical generating plants powered by burning coal and other fossil fuels. The plants, in turn, emit substantial amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that seriously and collectively contribute to increasing global warming and climate change.
Currently, considerable worldwide interest exists in using wind turbines — modern windmills — grouped in small to very large arrays called wind farms, as environmentally clean ways of generating electricity. Wind turbines do not emit greenhouse gases.
Unfortunately, some existing wind farms are located on important bird migration areas, bat migration areas, or both. The result? Thousands of raptors and bats are killed when they fly into moving turbine blades. The infamous Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in northern California, for example, contains some 5,000 wind turbines spread over a fifty square-mile area. And they’re located on an important raptor hotspot. As a result, thousands of Golden Eagles and other hawks and owls have been killed at this site during the past two decades. The deaths have been followed by heated public debate. Law suits are pending regarding the matter.
In Central Appalachia, thousands of migrating bats are also killed at wind farms in Pennsylvania and West Virginia when the mammals fly into moving turbine blades. At the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center on West Virginia’s Backbone Mountain, there are 44 wind turbines. During autumn, according to wildlife biologists’ estimates, between 1,500 and 4,000 bats fly into the turbine blades and are killed. Similarly, at a wind farm located near Meyersdale in southwestern Pennsylvania, large numbers of bats also are killed by flying into turbine blades. Research currently is being done to discover why bats are hit by the moving blades, and what can be done to try to prevent bat-turbine blade collisions.
Apparently, wind farm planners, operators, and governmental regulatory agencies were unaware that these Central Appalachia wind farms are located on bat migration areas. That’s because inadequate federal regulatory oversight is required pertaining to wildlife impacts and the placement of wind farms. What current federal wildlife impacts guidelines exist are voluntary, although federal endangered or threatened species law and regulations apply to those species. Some state wildlife laws may also apply in some cases.
Land use planners also need to address scenic landscape degradation caused by placing arrays of wind turbines on top of famous scenic mountains, and in other nationally and regionally significant scenic areas. There is a need to identify, catalog, and place off-limits to wind farms placement these sites in the United States and overseas.
To address some of these information gaps along the Kittatinny Raptor Corridor in southeastern Pennsylvania — a major autumn raptor migration corridor which includes the world famous Kittatinny Ridge on which raptor migration watchsites such as Bake Oven Knob and Hawk Mountain are located — I conducted weekly roadside raptor surveys for a one year period in Heidelberg Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Friends of Animals funded this field study. The field data derived from these surveys were used to produce seasonal raptor use hotspot maps for Heidelberg Township. Thus, at least for that township, we know where seasonal raptor use hotspots are located —information that can designate those locations as being inappropriate for constructing wind turbines.
Similar data are unfortunately not available for dozens of other townships within the Kittatinny Raptor Corridor. Moreover, current governmental regulations do not require wind farm planners, operators, and government energy agencies to secure similar information before building wind farms within this internationally important raptor migration and stopover habitat area.
Given the documented slaughter of thousands of raptors and bats at wind farms in California, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, however, it’s imperative that potential new wind farm sites be adequately studied and evaluated by wildlife biologists for one or two years before decisions are made about whether the sites are appropriate for wind farm development. Certainly there’s currently no justification for building wind farms in environmentally sensitive locations or in areas where wildlife is subtantially certain to face harm. By eliminating these specific areas from consideration, we’ll avoid harming wildlife while deriving the benefits of using wind farms to generate electrical energy cleanly.