Bats and Wind Turbines: Moving Beyond Dracula

The image of a flying bat may conjure images of vampires and other characters. Bats do not majestically soar the open skies like a golden eagle – if they did, perhaps their plight may be better known in the broader public domain. Instead, they fly at dusk, whipping about, in and out of old barns, caves and tree roosts, catching insects and swarming just before they prepare to hibernate. Bats are often considered “key species” ecologically speaking in many regions; unfortunately, they have yet to garner broader public attention (and value) for the invaluable services they provide. Pest control, seed dispersal and pollination are key activities that bats undertake, the absence of which would cost the agricultural industry and others millions of dollars each year. Alas though they do not soar like the golden eagle, that does not mean they are any less iconic…Batman, anyone?

Some may be aware that certain bat species are facing immense population stress and declines due to a devastating disease called White Nose Syndrome (WNS) wherein a white fungus grows on their noses as they hibernate. The fungus causes them to wake, forcing them to use the precious little energy they store to survive their long hibernation. WNS has decimated some bat populations, which places additional conservation pressure on other industries that, prior to the emergence of WNS, did not have noticeable impacts on bat populations. The wind industry is one of five industries that have been highlighted by the Federal Government as having the potential to have an impact on bats, and such impacts are compounded against the backdrop of WNS. Through the Canadian Wildlife Service, the government listed three bat species (“little brown myotis”; “northern myotis”; “tri-coloured bat”) under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), kick starting the mandatory publication of a draft Recovery Strategy and a yet-to-be published set of Best Management Practices (BMP) for the industries they identified.

As WNS continues to eradicate bat populations, the Canadian Wind Energy Assocation (CanWEA) appreciates the need to protect these species under SARA. Additionally, the use of a BMP is something the wind industry can support, particularly as it pertains to the wind industry’s ability to help inform a BMP based on the expertise and knowledge available within the greater wind energy markets in Canada and around the world.

The wind industry is addressing bat-related risks from a number of different vantage points – some of which have been initiated voluntarily. For example, the American Wind Energy Association has developed a voluntary protocol for wind operations and bats. The protocol involves implementing an effective mitigation approach, whereby wind turbine blades are “feathered” (see note at end) during certain times, and where technically feasible. The result of feathering is that the rotational speed of the wind turbine is significantly reduced, helping bats to more safely navigate through areas with wind turbines present. In fact, some research has suggested that feathering blades has reduced bat fatalities in one project by up to 72 percent.

CanWEA is seeking a more detailed analysis of the issue, and will factor in the unique Canadian context in which the wind industry operates. Recognizing that different provinces have different approaches to bat conservation, CanWEA has begun the process of developing a Wind Energy and Bat Conservation Toolkit. In support of a best practices approach, CanWEA believes that once regulators establish conservation goals, industry should have the latitude to meet them based on site-specific conditions and circumstances. What works in one place, may not work in another, so it makes sense to develop an adaptive management process in order to maximize the reduction in fatalities, in the most efficient manner possible.

CanWEA envisions the Toolkit will lay out the latest science and approaches surrounding this issue, including highlighting what other industries are doing. Our goal is to bring scientific rigour to the regulations so we can get the best results. We hope this work will complement research of other organizations focused on this issue, such as Bird Studies Canada, the Bats and Wind Energy Collaborative and the American Wind and Wildlife Institute.

I am optimistic about the commitment of the industry to find solutions that minimize the impact of wind turbines on our furry flying friends. Doing so is not only in keeping with our environmental roots and worthwhile from a business perspective, but I personally feel it is the least we could do to repay bats for all the things they unknowingly do for us, for which they get no thanks at all – well, except for playing a starring role in the next Dracula movie of course…

**Feathering a wind turbine blade means that the blades are pitched such that they do not “catch” as much wind when compared to normal operations, whereby the blades face more wind, and therefore generate more lift. When blades are feathered, they do not experience as much aerodynamic lift, thereby reducing the rotational speed of the entire hub to about 1 – 3 Hz.

Lead image ©Siemens Canada Limited

This article was originally published by the Canadian Wind Energy Association and was republished with permission.

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Tom Levy is Director of Technical and Utility Affairs at the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

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