A Batty Idea: Why Wind Turbines Are Slowing Down This Fall

With the backing of the American Wind Energy Association, 17 different turbine manufacturers announced last week that they would limit production this fall. Why? To get out of the way of migrating bats.

For migrating bats, the turbines that power the wind industry are—to put it lightly—flight hazards. Fortunately for the bats, those turbines will be a little easier to fly past in the coming months.

American wind power is strongly committed to producing one of the safest and cleanest forms of energy, for people and wildlife.

This fall, thousands of wind turbines around the country will be idle more often than usual, helping to ensure that northern long-eared bats don’t become victims of the energy industry’s efforts to harness Mother Nature. The voluntary plan by 17 different companies, which will idle turbines during periods of low production, was announced Thursday by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

“The adoption of this protocol to reduce impacts to bats is a continuation of our legacy of care for wildlife and the environment,” Tom Kiernan, CEO of the trade group, said in a news release. “American wind power is strongly committed to producing one of the safest and cleanest forms of energy, for people and wildlife.”

The approach, which had been tested and recommended by a 2009 study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, was welcomed by conservationists, who believe that the industry has made significant progress on the issue.

“It’s a big deal. That’s a big move on their part,” Paul Cryan, a U.S. Geological Survey bat biologist, told National Geographic. “It’s really encouraging to hear the industry is taking steps to curtail turbines, which is the best way we know of to reduce bat fatalities.”

Groups such as Bat Conservation International and the National Wildlife Federation agreed, with the latter crediting AWEA for “common sense practices and a proactive spirit” on the issue.

The fans won’t shut down entirely during this process; instead, they’ll run at around one to three revolutions per minute, based on the length of the blades in use—a speed that is likely to limit bat collisions.

Northern long-eared bats, which can be found in 37 states and the District of Columbia according to IowaWatch.org, have increasingly faced significant dangers to survival in recent years, with wind turbines only one of the key factors. The website, which says that the average turbine kills as many as 18 bats each year, also notes that a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome has proved even deadlier to the country’s bat population in the past decade.

A northern long-eared bat with visible symptoms of white-nose syndrome, a common ailment among bats. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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