Wind Turbines Are Killing Way More Bats Than Any Expected

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Hawaii’s five major wind turbine farms are killing endangered bats about three times faster than anyone predicted.

The wind farms have killed more bats in the last 6.4 years than experts expected the turbines to kill over two decades. The wind farms have killed 146 endangered Hawaiian hoary bats out of the 187 they are permitted to kill by 2030. The same turbines have also killed roughly 50 nene, an endangered goose and Hawaii’s state bird.

Hawaii has 114 commercial wind turbines across six major farms. Turbines at the Auwahi Wind Farm, Kaheawa Wind Power, Kahuku Wind Farm, Kawailoa Wind Farm and the Pakini Nui Wind Farm all killed endangered bats. These wind farms generate a combined capacity of 192 megawatts of power.

The number of endangered animals killed by turbines is likely to grow as the state builds more wind farms to comply with green energy goals. The state government has plans to install an additional 3,000 megawatts of wind power.

“We don’t think the [wind turbines] mitigation measure and adaptive measurements have met the standards of the law,” Max Phillips, a policy adviser to the state’s legislature, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser. “Specifically with the Hawaiian hoary bat, we don’t really know how many bats there are. … Even at those numbers, if it’s only a couple hundred and if they are killing over 50 bats, that is a huge impact to the species’ base line.”

Population estimates of hoary bats for all islands range from a few hundred to a few thousand, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The bats have been listed as an endangered species since 1970 and are the only native land mammal of Hawaii.

Wind farms kill an estimated 573,000 birds each year as well as 888,000 bats, according to a 2013 peer-reviewed study published in Wildlife Society Bulletin. Wind farms are projected to kill 1.4 million birds annually by 2030. A single solar power plant in California killed an estimated 3,500 birds in just the plant’s first year of operation.

Wind farms in North Carolina were forced to pay a $1 million fine for killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds in 2013. An Oregon-based wind power company was fined $2.5 million for killing 38 eagles in 2015. Modern wind turbines create a powerful vortex that literally sucks eagles and other birds into them.

To put those numbers in perspective, the 2010 British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico oil spill only killed an estimated 800,000 birds, for which the company was fined $100 million. In the last five years, America’s wind turbines killed more than three times as many birds as the BP oil spill did.

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