“A Big Deal… A Big Move”: the U.S. Wind Industry’s New Plan for Protecting Bats

, senior energy analyst, Clean Energy | September 3, 2015, 4:41 pm EDT
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On the eve of National Wildlife Day, the U.S. wind industry association has just announced an important new approach to protecting bats from direct impacts from wind turbines. Here’s the lowdown on who’s involved, what they’re doing, and why it matters.

The lowdown

Wind power is a zero carbon energy resource that can help states achieve their emission rate reduction targets under the new EPA power plant carbon standard. Photo by Carlye Calvin.

Bats are important for farmers (think insect control, for example) and all those who depend on them. Wind turbines are important for all of us who breathe. (Credit: Carlye Calvin)

Who’s involved – The agreement, announced today by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), includes 17 wind companies responsible for almost 90% of U.S. wind energy generation.

The deal won praise from important conservation-oriented groups (see below), including the heads of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Bat Conservation International (BCI), and the American Wind Wildlife Institute.

AWWI, a collaboration that UCS helped launch in 2008 and on whose board we serve, has as its goal to “facilitate timely and responsible development of wind energy while protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat.” And this sort of move fits the bill nicely.

What they’re doing – The new voluntary industry guidelines involve wind project operators operating their wind turbines differently when they’re not generating power during peak bat migration time.

Wind turbines can pose threats to bats at wind speeds that are too low for generating electricity. Under this agreement, turbines will have their blades turned, such that they spin very slowly, or not at all, when they’re not needed.

Why it matters – We need all the windpower we can get to reduce the harmful impacts of pollution from our power sector, particularly with regard to climate change. And this agreement should further lower the obstacles to ramping up wind. Studies have suggested that reducing wind turbine activity at lower wind speeds can make a big difference in terms of bat fatalities.

Experts’ take

Here’s what some experts are saying about the deal (emphasis added):

U.S. Geological Survey bat biologist Paul Cryan (from National Geographic’s coverage of this agreement):

“It’s a big deal. That’s a big move on their part… 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.”

BCI’s executive director Andrew Walker:

“The implementation of this industry-wide practice is an important step and demonstrates how far the wind energy industry has come on the issue of bats. We believe this will, on average, reduce bat fatalities significantly among participating facilities across the country. We appreciate the industry’s efforts to protect species of bats that otherwise would have no protection under current federal law.”

AWWI executive director Abby Arnold:

“Congratulations to wind industry leaders for taking proactive steps to address impacts of wind energy on bats. AWWI looks forward to continuing to collaborate with its partners in the science, industry, and conservation communities to find effective ways to minimize and mitigate these impacts.”

Collin O’Mara, the head of NWF, sums it up nicely: “Through common sense practices and a proactive spirit by the wind industry,” he says, “it’s clear we can both move the nation toward a clean energy future, and protect wildlife.”

It definitely is clear, given climate change, that those two issues are connected, and that one of the best things we can do to protect wildlife is to find ways to minimize the disruption that climate change will bring. Doing that while minimizing direct impacts is a win-win, and something we should be doing a lot more.

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