Bats and Wind Turbines: New Study Underscores Threat to Migratory Bats and Importance of Solutions to Avoid and Reduce Impacts

(February 24, 2017) A study published in Biological Conservation warns that, in the absence of conservation measures, wind energy development may pose a substantial threat to migratory bats in North America – underscoring the importance of the collaborative work on solutions that is already under way.

“Our estimates about the potential population-level threats from wind turbines to a species of migratory bat, the Hoary Bat, also comes with a note of hope about the strategies and technologies that are being advanced to reduce fatalities and conserve bats while developing wind energy,” said Dr. Erin Baerwald, postdoctoral research fellow with the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) and co-author of the study.

“Wind energy is needed at scale to limit the impacts of climate change on wildlife, including bats,” said Peter Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the organizations that founded and partners with AWWI. “This new study confirms the wisdom of our collaborative commitment to effective strategies to ensure that wind energy and bats can thrive together. I am heartened that one such strategy – limiting operations under high risk conditions – is showing promising results.”

“The good news is that conservation and wind energy communities have anticipated the challenge and invested in research that can make a tremendous difference, now, and going forward. We now need to sustain that promising effort,” said Abby Arnold, Executive Director of AWWI.

Bat fatalities at wind turbines are a known occurrence, even though the extent of potential impacts on certain bat populations has been unclear. Three species of migratory, tree-roosting bats account for approximately 80% of all bat fatalities at wind turbines in North America. The new study models those impacts in the context of populations of one of those species, the Hoary Bat, which is the bat species most frequently killed by wind turbines in North America.

Taking action to prevent and reduce fatalities, Bat Conservation International (BCI), through the Bat and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC), AWWI, the wind energy industry, and government agencies have been collaborating to better understand risk and develop solutions. The result is a better understanding of how to avoid and reduce fatalities. This collaboration includes work that spans pre-construction and post-construction surveys, operational mitigation, and expert participation in verification of deterrence technologies.

The good news, mentioned in the new study itself, is that such collaboration has already identified at least one conservation method – curtailment of wind turbines under high risk conditions – that can reduce bat fatalities by 44-93% according to the study while minimizing impact on power generation. Research continues to further refine and improve the effectiveness of this mitigation technique.

In 2015, building on several years of collaborative research, the wind energy industry announced a best management practice establishing a new voluntary protocol to reduce impacts to bats from operating wind turbines.

To advance conservation on the ground, leverage AWWI’s scientific, data-driven, and collaborative approach, and coordinate efforts with BCI and BWEC, AWWI in 2015 launched a Bat Initiative specifically designed to:

(1) improve risk and impact assessment of bats at wind energy facilities, and

(2) transparently verify the effectiveness of promising detection and deterrence technologies, which, in addition to curtailment strategies, could prove a valuable tool for bat conservation.

For information from AWWI about the new study in Conservation Biology and more about these efforts to advance bat conservation while developing wind energy, click here.

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