Project Development, Wind Power

Important Wildlife Work Underway at Iberdrola Wind Farm on Former Coal Mine

Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell (D) this week helped open Iberdrola Renewables’ Casselman Wind Power Project, a 34.5-MW facility with important environmental implications and symbolism alike.

In a groundbreaking effort to study the interaction between bats and wind turbines, Iberdrola has partnered with an independent conservation group, Bat Conservation International (BCI), for wildlife data collection at the facility, which is located in southwestern Pennsylvania. BCI’s work is being conducted through the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC), a coalition that includes AWEA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and BCI. The cooperative’s work focuses on identifying and addressing potential wind energy impacts on bats.

From late July to early October, Iberdola worked with BCI researchers to conduct a controlled experiment in which selected wind turbines at the Casselman project were stopped during certain wind conditions. This represents the first U.S.-based effort to study the effects of shutting down turbines on reducing bat deaths.

Shutting down turbines at certain wind speeds and during periods when bats appear most vulnerable is a potential new and effective way to reduce the impact on bats during their late-summer migration season. Although it was crucial for this study, curtailing turbine operations is not likely to be the complete solution to reducing the impact on bats in all circumstances, just one part of it, company officials said.

“As responsible stewards of natural resources, we recognize there is an impact on bats that requires scientific study,” said Andy Linehan, wind permitting director for Iberdrola. “We’re committed to spearheading this effort, which represents a new area of investigation for the wind industry. The new information generated by the Casselman project will be useful in improving many techniques for reducing wildlife risk at those wind power sites where there are significant impacts to bats.”

The results of the study will be reviewed by BWEC’s scientific advisory committee and then made public.

“What excites me as a scientist is that this is a very applied problem. We need to develop renewable energy resources, and we would like to develop those responsibly,” said Ed Arnett, a principal wildlife investigator for BCI. “There’s no free lunch here. There are always going to be impacts, but we want to reduce those impacts, particularly with green energy. Together, the industry, conservation groups, and scientists can solve this. Iberdrola deserves considerable credit for hosting and supporting this critical experiment.”

The Casselman study has wider implications for the wind energy industry as a whole. “AWEA is a founding member of the Bat Wind Energy Cooperative, and we are glad to see this next step in identifying ways to address impacts of wind energy on bats,” said AWEA Communications Director Tom Gray. “We see this partnership as being a valuable resource not only for Iberdrola Renewables, but also for the entire wind energy industry.”

The Casselman Wind Power Project, located in Somerset County, also marks an important environmental first for the state of Pennsylvania by putting a former coal mine to productive use. Eight of the project’s turbines are located atop infill from a surface mine. The project was supported by a US $500,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority to offset the increased foundation costs for the wind turbines. Power generated at Casselman will be delivered to customers of FirstEnergy Solutions Corp.

Rendell called the Casselman project “a prime example of the growth we have been able to achieve through smart energy policies and our commitment to developing an advanced energy economy.”

This article first appeared in Wind Energy Weekly, and was republished with permission from the American Wind Energy Association.