As the United States looks to green technology to keep up with rising energy costs, wind energy has become a beacon of hope. Pennsylvania now ranks 15th in the nation in wind energy, and wind farms in our region have been honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But there are problems.
Even if all the wind farms in Pennsylvania were utilized, they’d still only make up for about 6 percent of needed electricity in the state. And, ironically, they also seem to be messing with nature: One unintended consequence of the installation of wind turbines has been a massive increase in bat deaths. Bats seem to be drawn to them, and scientists can’t figure out why. But they do know that the rapid decline in our bat population—which is crucial to general insect control—is really bad news.
“A high [bat] fatality rate was observed at a wind farm in West Virginia in 2003 and from that point on, we began seeing high fatality rates in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and then different rates across the country,” says Dr. Cris D. Hein, coordinator of the Bats and Wind Energy Program for Bat Conservation International. “So it became an issue that needed to be addressed quite rapidly, as wind development grew in the early 2000s.”
Each year, an estimated hundreds of thousands of bats are killed after colliding with, and getting shredded by, wind turbines. Last year, Pennsylvania’s 420 turbines killed an estimate 10,000 bats, according to the state Game Commission. And that has left scientists with a conundrum: Between the repurcussions of global warming and the shrinking oil supply, going green is inevitable. So how do we stop the destruction of nature—the very nature we’re attempting to save?