III Human-Bat Conflicts

Impacts of Wind Energy Development on Bats: A Global Perspective

Edward B. Arnett, Erin F. Baerwald, Fiona Mathews, Luisa Rodrigues,

Armando Rodríguez-Durán, Jens Rydell, Rafael Villegas-Patraca and Christian C. Voigt

Abstract Wind energy continues to be one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources under development, and while representing a clean energy source, it is not environmentally neutral. Large numbers of bats are being killed at utilityscale wind energy facilities worldwide, raising concern about cumulative impacts of wind energy development on bat populations. We discuss our current state of knowledge on patterns of bat fatalities at wind facilities, estimates of fatalities, mitigation efforts, and policy and conservation implications. Given the magnitude and extent of fatalities of bats worldwide, the conservation implications of understanding and mitigating bat fatalities at wind energy facilities are critically important and should be proactive and based on science rather than being reactive and arbitrary.


Developing renewable energy alternatives has become a global priority, owing to long-term environmental impacts from the use of fossil fuels, coupled with a changing climate (Schlesinger and Mitchell 1987; McLeish 2002; Inkley et al. 2004) and because of growing concerns about negative effects from the use of nuclear power (Voigt et al. 2015a). Wind power is one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources worldwide (Fig. 11.1), in part due to recent costcompetitiveness with conventional energy sources, technological advances, and tax incentives (Bernstein et al. 2006). Although presently wind power contributes only about 4 % of the global electricity demand, some countries provide greater than 20 % of their demand from wind (e.g., Denmark [34 %] and Spain and Portugal [21 %]; World Wind Energy Association, wwindea.org). By the end of 2013, the Global Wind Energy Council reported that 318,105 MW of wind power capacity was installed worldwide (gwec.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/5_17-1_global-installed-wind-power-capacity_regionaldistribution.jpg). The World Wind Energy Association (wwindea.org) projects that by 2020, more than 700,000 MW could be installed globally.

Wind energy development is not environmentally neutral, and impacts to wildlife and their habitats have been documented and are of increasing concern. Wind energy development affects wildlife through direct mortality and indirectly through impacts on habitat structure and function (Arnett et al. 2007; Arnett 2012; NRC 2007; Strickland et al. 2011). Bats are killed by blunt force trauma or barotrauma and may also suffer from inner ear damage and other injuries not readily noticed by examining carcasses in the field (Baerwald et al. 2008; Grodsky et al. 2011; Rollins et al. 2012; Fig. 11.2). Kunz et al (2007a) proposed several hypotheses that may explain why bats are killed and some of these ideas have subsequently been discussed by others (e.g., Cryan and Barclay 2009; Rydell et al 2010a). Collisions at turbines do not appear to be chance events, and bats probably are attracted to turbines either directly, as turbines may resemble roosts (Cryan 2008), or indirectly, because turbines attract insects on which the bats feed (Rydell et al. 2010b). Horn et al. (2008) and Cryan et al. (2014) provide video evidence of possible attraction of bats to wind turbines.

Regardless of causal mechanisms, bat fatalities raise serious concerns about population-level impacts because bats are long-lived and have exceptionally low reproductive rates, and their population growth is relatively slow, which

Fig. 11.1 Annual installed global wind energy capacity (MW) from 1996–2013 (modified from the Global Wind Energy Council, gwec.net/global-figures/graphs/)

Fig. 11.2 Blunt force trauma (a) and barotrauma (b, c) in three noctule bats (Nyctalus noctula) killed at wind turbine in Germany. a Ventral view of an open fracture of the left humerus at the height of the elbow joint. b Ventral view of the opened abdominal cavity with blood effusion in the thoracic cavity visible behind the diaphragm (hemothorax). c Ventral view of opened carcass without bone fractures, but severe bleeding in the abdominal cavity (hemoabdomen) (picture courtesy: Gudrun Wibbelt, IZW)

limits their ability to recover from declines and maintain sustainable populations (Barclay and Harder 2003). Additionally, other sources of mortality cumulatively threaten many populations. For example, white-nosed syndrome causes devastating declines in bat populations in the USA and Canada (e.g., Frick et al. 2010), and national programs for improving insulation of buildings, particularly in Northern Europe, cause losses of roosting opportunities for bats such as the common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus; Voigt et al. 2016). Thus, high wind turbine mortality poses a serious threat to bats unless solutions are developed and implemented (Arnett and Baerwald 2013). In this chapter, we build on previous reviews of existing information (e.g., Arnett et al. 2008; Rydell et al. 2010a; Arnett and Baerwald 2013; EUROBATS 2014), synthesize information on bat fatalities at wind energy facilities worldwide, discuss unifying themes and policy and conservation implications, and offer insights for future directions of research and mitigation of bat fatalities at wind facilities.

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