By Merlin Tuttle 9/06/19Early expectations for green energy, especially from wind, were exciting. We all wanted to believe in a source of energy that was clean and endlessly renewable, one that would permit us to minimize the consequences of expanding population and consumption. When we began to discover that there are no free rides, we still optimistically believed we’d soon find solutions. I organized the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative, a partnership among bat conservationists, government agencies, and the wind industry, and we all shared high hopes for rapid progress. We were surprised to find far more serious threats than previously suspected. However, encouraging discoveries were also made. By simple curtailment of spinning turbines at low wind speeds, when energy production was minimal, bat kills could be reduced by an average of 83% with a less than 1% loss in power production. A review of early discoveries is available.
Unexpectedly, many companies, including some of America’s largest, simply refused to implement scientific discoveries. What began with high hopes has too often become a cover for companies to neglect threats to wildlife. The public is now misled by reports of seldom implemented research progress. Faced with rapid industry expansion, the current goal of reducing bat kills by 50% is inadequate, and far below what is actually achievable.Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment” award winner, Michael Shellenberger, who’s articles have appeared in many prestigious publications, from Scientific American to The Wall Street Journal, recently confronted some painful truths. In his Forbes magazine article titled, “Why Climate Activists Threaten Endangered Species with Extinction,” he provides serious food for thought.
If we’re truly concerned about preventing extinctions, how can we ignore wind turbine threats to migratory bats, insects and large, high-conservation value birds?
None of the American bat species most affected by turbines have any legal protection, despite potentially serious environmental costs of their loss.
Even in the rare instances when governments require industries to mitigate their impacts, there is often little or no reported enforcement.
Wind developers are allowed to self-report kills while withholding findings from the public.
While the industry has hyped technical fixes, none has yet proven broadly successful. Only low wind speed curtailment has offered real hope for bats (though it is usually allowed only in experiments and is not used broadly during facility operations).
Environmental journalists and organizations deserve significant blame for suggesting wind problems are small or being solved.
Wind farms require 400 times more space than nuclear power facilities which have a far better environmental record and are more effective in decarbonizing energy.