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Studies Necessary Prior to Wind Turbine Installation - January 17, 2016

           With a landmark climate change agreement signed, alternative energy companies await their “boom”. However, prior to the talks in Paris, sectors like solar and wind energy were already experiencing a surge in business. Whether it is a homeowner taking advantage of tax incentives and installing solar panels, or a city doing its part in the global effort to curb greenhouse gases, installers of solar and wind energy have been busy. While solar and wind energy are excellent alternatives to conventional energy sources, they are not without drawbacks, many of which run counter to the entire mantra of the green energy movement, i.e. don’t harm the environment. In the coastal bays region, concerns over bird and bat deaths as a result of wind turbines have caused heated debates over the numerous proposed wind turbine sites on Delmarva.


          Turbines across the United States do contribute to bird and bat deaths. How much they contribute is largely dependent on a variety of conditions including the local placement of the turbines. Massive wind facilities in places like Oregon and Oklahoma kill relatively few bats, for reasons not fully understood.. Contrast this with turbines in the Appalachians, which are estimated to kill tens of thousands of bats annually. Because species such as the Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus), and Silver-haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans) are particularly vulnerable at these sites, and also inhabit local areas, there is concern that local bats may suffer a similar fate as those in the Appalachians. Bird deaths, while usually low, also occur at wind turbine facilities. A proposed turbine site on the Eastern Shore was eventually scrapped due to political roadblocks, but had it been built, could have killed more eagles than any other proposed project nationwide, as a result of the site’s proximity to areas intensively utilized by eagles. It is strange that an industry which capitalizes on people’s desire to help the environment, can in some cases, cause extreme problems for the very environment it strives to save. Thankfully, steps taken both prior to construction of a turbine facility, and post construction can drastically limit the impact turbines have on the environment. For instance, while planning a location for a wind energy site, surveys of bird and bat populations should be done in order to estimate the relative usage of that area. This can inform companies what areas are not ideal to set up shop. Work such as this is being done in our region. A study published in 2014 examined bat activity off the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula, and can inform potential offshore wind energy companies about any effect turbines may have on bats. Post construction, curtailing turbines on nights of low wind, conditions ideal for bat activity but not ideal for energy companies, represents a win-win scenario, and can potentially save bats’ lives. Likewise, curtailing turbines during periods of migration such as the fall and spring, can also mitigate impacts for birds and bats. Ultimately though, studies and curtailment strategies are only effective at reducing bat and bird mortality if they are taken seriously, and followed, a responsibility which falls largely on the energy companies.


            Overall, wind energy represents a viable and necessary option for shifting away from conventional energy sources. Done properly, wind energy is an excellent way to keep up with energy demands, while limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The key though, is that facilities must be located in areas which reduce their impacts on fauna, and therefore do not cause a new problem in an effort to solve an existing one. Recognizing the economic pressures companies face, time is not always available to complete yearlong surveys for bird and bat activity. However, as the old adage goes, ‘if you’re going to do it, do it right’.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, your donations make it possible for us to continue our work of protecting the coastal bays and are tax deductible. 

Andrew McGowan is a science intern with the MD Coastal Bays Program, and has recently completed his M.S. degree from Salisbury University where he investigated bat ecology on the Delmarva Peninsula. 

               



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