In case you thought the wildlife and wind turbine conflict issue was limited to eagles, condors, and California, think again. A Vermont wind installation is seeking permission to legally kill four endangered bats a year with its turbines, and says that the permit would save the company $4 million a year.
The Kingdom Community Wind project on northern Vermont's Lowell Mountain Ridge, a joint project of Green Mountain Power (GMP) and Vermont Electric Co-op, will consist of 21 three-megawatt turbines along five miles of ridgeline. A flashpoint for controversy in northern Vermont, the project poses a serious threat to the local population of little brown bats, as well as a few other bat species.
Little brown bats, a.k.a. Myotis lucifugus, are one of North America's most common bats. But in Vermont, the bat population has been hit so hard by the deadly epidemic white nose syndrome, which has a mortality rate of 95 percent, that the state has listed the species as endangered.
According to GMP, running the facility in such a way as to protect the bats would require the turbines be "curtailed" -- shut down, essentially -- at night during the bats' active season, about six months a year. That would cost the company an estimated $4 million a year in power it couldn't generate and sell.
According to Vermont Public Radio, the state's Agency of Natural Resources says that 19 of the state's 20 wind installations have had little brown bat mortality issues. Nonetheless, the agency is considering a state "take permit" that would allow GMP to kill four little brown bats each year, along with three bats of other species. In exchange, GMP would fund a state Fish and Wildlife Department project that protects maternal bat colonies.
Of course, bats aren't just injured by direct turbine blade strikes: the abrupt low air pressure caused by the high-speed whoosh of the turbine blades can cause fatal internal hemorrhaging. That's actually the cause of about 95 percent of bat fatalities in most wind turbine studies. Given that a bat might make it a few hundred yards while bleeding internally, and that Kingdom Community Wind is atop a ridge surrounded by thick forest full of hungry scavengers, finding each bat killed by GMP's turbines is probably not possible.