The hidden environmental cost of wind power

There is lots of talk about harnessing the power of wind to generate environmentally friendly renewable energy. These technologies can provide benefits over more conventional forms of energy production; however we must not assume that these technologies have zero negative impacts on the environments. One Impact which is slowly being uncovered is the deadly results there “wind farm” can have on local bat populations.

The University of Maryland doctoral student turned up something unexpected amid the trees and rolling ridges of Backbone Mountain: hundreds of bat carcasses, some with battered wings and bloodied faces. “It was really a shock,” Kerns said. Thousands of bats have died at Backbone and on another nearby wind farm in Meyersdale, Pa. — more per turbine than at any other wind facility in the world, according to researchers’ estimates. The deaths are raising concerns about the impact of hundreds more turbines planned in the East, including some in western Maryland, as the wind industry steps up expansion beyond its traditional areas in the West and Great Plains.The bat problem could worsen, conservationists fear, as wind developers rush to erect new turbines following the recent renewal of a federal tax break for a year. The wind industry, which had been virtually dormant since the last tax break expired a year ago, projects more wind turbines to be built around the country this year than in any previous year. In the areas near where bats have been killed in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, activists said, roughly 700 new turbines have been proposed or approved.The Washington Post

Why is this an issue? Bats in some areas number in the millions, and eat a correspondingly enormous amount of insects every night. If these bat populations are to be reduced in numbers, there is the very real risk that more pesticides would be used to kill the increased numbers of insects. This would be an issue especially in agricultural areas, where these insects could decimate certain crops. Regulators need to pay closer attention to the environmental impacts of wind power and as consumers we need to reduce the amount of power we consume.

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3 thoughts on “The hidden environmental cost of wind power

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  1. I feel like I might have posted this before…it’s pretty late here. Hehe.

    In accordance with the laws of thermodynamics, wind does have a profound effect on many areas. If a large amount of turbines are placed, any area east of that will become significantly warmer (it’s been a while since i’ve done my reading). We’re talking 10-20 degrees, depending on how many turbines. Plus, all surrounding areas will have pretty severe changes in climate – since meteorology is so wonderfully accurate (not) we can’t know exactly what changes, but the weather patterns have definitely been shown to change. This could really hurt surrounding wildlife if suddenly a normally sunny area becomes cloudy. Like I said, it’s been a while, I need to do my research again to know specifics. And, as mentioned, the avians in the area are at risk. While a few bats doesn’t seem that bad, it will add up over time, especially if wind turbines become a popular method of harvesting energy.

    Energy solutions are rarely 100% healthy.

  2. The number of bats killed by wind turbines is trivial. The types of bats were a migratory species which have gigantic populations. Like birds, perhaps you’d better get some data before criticizing wind turbines. Bird lovers( or usually just opponents of wind turbines looking for something negative), have made false statements concerning bird fatalities, claiming thousands of fatalities. The number of birds killed each year in the US thru flying into buildings exceeds 5 BILLION. Yes, that’s over FIVE BILLION birds. The number killed by autos is over 700 MILLION. The number killed by cats is estimated to be ONE BILLION. That’s right , we’re talking BILLIONs. Now many wind turbines across the country have been monitored for years – that’s how we come to have good estimates and we have found that the number of bird fatalities is trivial – most turbines don’t kill a single bird in a year of operation. The number of bats killed was surprising because it was so unusual, not because the number has any particular significance. Those bats were migratory species that are, if anything, overly plentiful.

  3. “you’d better get some data before criticizing wind turbines”

    Do you have data that says the number were trivial? (or for any of the numbers you provided)

    Here is some data for bird migration fatalities from a peer reviewed journal:

    We suggest abandonment of wind farms in zones with dense migration, turning off turbines on nights predicted to have adverse weather and high migration intensity, and actions to make wind turbines more recognizable to birds –IBIS

    The point I was making is that regulators need to consider all impacts when deciding how to generate power; and they should not assume that green energy has no environmental impacts, as is often the case.

    Making a blanket statement that the numbers of birds and bats killed in turbines are negligible can be dangerous (if regulators rely on them). While that MAY hold true for most areas, there may be certain areas where the number killed are not negligible and the impacts can be significant. Each wind farm is unique and assessments should be made for every wind farm to determine the likelihood of significant mortality (or other environmental costs), and those costs should be included in any cost benefit analysis.

    I do believe that wind power has a lot of promise, but it still has some very real costs (just like every other method of generating power) that need to be factored into the decision making process.

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