In a report from the United States Accountability Office, commissioned by Congress, on the impacts of wind power on wildlife, and government responsibilities for regulating wind power development it states wind power kills bats, and in this part of the country it kills bats in large numbers.
Dr. Michael Gannon, a resident of Altoona and Blair County for more than 15 years, is a Professor of Biology at the Pennsylvania State University and a senior faculty member at the Penn State Altoona College. He also represents the Pennsylvania Biological Survey (PBS) on the Pennsylvania Wind and Wildlife Consortium, which is a committee formed by Governor Edward G. Rendell to advise on wind development and wildlife issues in Pennsylvania.
Gannon is an acknowledged expert on bats, bat ecology and bat population ecology. He has studied bats all over the world for over 20 years and has published a book, several book chapters, and numerous papers in scientific journals on bat biology. He and his students have studied bats in PA and Blair County for the last 10 years.
In addition, Gannon is a member of the PBS’s Mammal Technical Committee (MTC), which is a panel of experts who advise the PA Game Commission on all matters regarding mammals within the Commonwealth. He also sits as Chair for the Wind Energy and Bats Sub-Committee of the MTC.
Gannon stated that he does not oppose responsible alternative energy development such as wind, but he does oppose development that does not require the developer to use sound current scientific based evaluations to evaluate the environmental impact of the site before construction occurs.
He said that “thus far no site in PA has done so, and no requirements (voluntary or not) exist that are sound and current in their science.”
As for Gamesa Energy USA’s proposed wind farm site on Ice Mountain, Gannon stated in a letter he sent to Tyrone Mayor James Kilmartin, “I have no economic interest in this project, my only interest here is insuring the protection of our valuable wildlife for the people of this borough, Blair County, and Pennsylvania.”
As for the bat issue, Gannon said he has seen estimates from conservatives that 5,000 bats per wind site per year are killed, to the very liberal of about 60,000 bats per site per year.
Studies suggest that industrial wind turbines in forested settings kill 50-100 bats per turbine per year. Because bats have only one pup per year, it would not take long to wipe out local bat populations.
Sierra Club Moshannon Group Chairman Gary Thornbloom said wind power is needed but not at the expense of further fragmenting PA forestland. He added the Ice Mountain area is important in this respect “because it is the only forest in Blair County large enough to withstand natural disturbances and to sustain populations of typical and sensitive species.”
“The wind industry needs to act in a responsible manner toward wildlife, particularly as regards to bird and bat mortality,” said Thornbloom. “Wind farms should not be sited in locations that are high quality bird and bat habitat, or are identified migration routes.”
Juniata Valley Audubon Society President Dr. Stan Kotala said that this would have disastrous consequences because bats are our primary predator of night-flying insects. Each bat eats 2,000-3,000 insects per night.
“Since the industrial wind plant on Ice Mountain would have 20-30 turbines (10-15 on the leased borough land), the mortality to bats would be enormous and would disrupt the balance of the ecosystem on a site that has been documented as ‘unique’ and ‘of exceptional conservation value’ by the Blair County Natural Heritage Inventory,'” said Kotala.
Gannon agrees with Kotala, “The economic value of bats has been documented many times. Bats are the major predators of all our nocturnal insects. They consume large numbers of insect pests including many of our most troublesome crop pests.”
“All bats in Pennsylvania feed on insects,” said Gannon. “The economic value of bats as a biological control agent for insects is estimated to be in the multi billions of dollars annually in the U.S. alone.”
Gannon said that bats are considered to be ecological keystone species and this being the keystone state, he’s sure many people around here might be aware of what that means.
“The keystone is the stone that bears the majority of the weight in an archway,” said Gannon. “If it is disturbed or removed, the archway collapses. Bats are keystone species in our ecosystem. They play a vital role in maintaining it, and if disturbed or reduced, the ecosystem as we know it will collapse. However, bat populations are declining worldwide, mostly due to the actions of man.”
Gannon reiterated that bats have a very low reproductive rate, where each female produces only one offspring or pup per year; an event that causes a population decline can take many years to recover from. Any event that repeatedly kills bats, year after year, in large numbers, can be devastating to a population.
“The chances that a wind facility in this area will have a negative impact on our bat populations appear to be extremely high,” said Gannon. “The proliferation of numerous wind sites in this part of the country, most of which have or are being documented to have such an effect on bats, could be the most serious threat to our bat population, our biological insect control, that science has seen.”
Gannon feels that government officials, with a responsibility of protecting valuable natural resources, have a responsibility that before they allow construction of a wind facility, they insure that the sites have been evaluated for their potential impact on bats and other wildlife.
“Just as the power companies evaluate it for wind, and place these facilities only in areas where there is sufficient wind blowing, they need also to be evaluated for their environmental impact, and sites that have a high potential to negatively impact wildlife should be avoided,” said Gannon.
He said that current state requirements and voluntary regulations are simply not sufficient to protect natural resources when it comes to wind energy developments. He said there was flawed science submitted by Gamesa on the Shaffer Mountain wind site regarding bats and wind energy development.
Thornbloom said, “Existing wind farms should be open to researchers so that bird and bat mortality can be documented, and ways to address this issue can be developed. Currently, the wind industry is unregulated in Pennsylvania. The state needs to regulate this, as well as any other large industry that has major impacts on our environment.”
Gannon agrees that something more can be done. Based on numerous scientific and government reports, the PBS, MTC has developed a list of best current scientific principles as it pertains to wind development and impact on bats.
“Pre- and post construction research at wind energy projects should be regional in focus and at those sites with the greatest potential for adverse effects on bat populations,” stated Gannon. “Improved documentation, with emphasis on evaluation of causes and cumulative impacts, should be a high priority.”
He ended by urging Tyrone Borough Council, “As the only government regulatory board to oversee wind development at this site in Pennsylvania, and with a responsibility to protect our environment and natural resources, require that any development proceed along these guidelines and properly assess the impact of this site on our wildlife, with accepted scientific rigor.”