Letter to Mayor Kilmartin by Dr. Michael Gannon, biology professor at Penn State Altoona

Letter to Tyrone Mayor James Kilmartin in response to Mayor Kilmartin's request for community input on a potential wind facility. Gamesa is proposing to erect 10-15 wind turbines on borough property located on Ice Mountain for a total of 25 units on the ridge tops in the area.

My name is Michael Gannon. I have been a resident of Altoona and Blair County for more than 15 years. I am employed as a Professor of Biology at the Pennsylvania State University, and a senior faculty member at the Penn State Altoona College. In addition I represent the Pennsylvania Biological Survey on the Pennsylvania Wind and Wildlife Consortium, which is a committee formed by Governor Rendell to advise on wind development and wildlife issues in Pennsylvania. I am an acknowledged expert on bats, bat ecology, and bat population biology. I have studied bats all over the world for over 20 years and have published a book, several book chapters, and numerous papers in scientific journals on bat biology. I, and my students, have studied the bats in Pennsylvania and Blair County for the last 10 years. In addition, I am a member of the Pennsylvania Biological Survey, Mammal Technical Committee, which is a panel of experts who advise the Pennsylvania Game Commission on all matters regarding mammals within the Commonwealth.

There are several points of information I would like to convey to you today. First, I am pro-renewable energy, if it is done in a responsible way, with consideration on how that development will affect our environment and wildlife. I have no economic interest in this project, and I support responsible development of renewable energy. My only interest here is insuring the protection of our valuable wildlife for the people of this township, Blair County, and Pennsylvania.

This is a report from the United Stated Accountability Office, commissioned by Congress, on the impacts of wind power on wildlife, and government responsibilities for regulating wind power development. (Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Requesters. 2005. Wind Power, Impacts on Wildlife and Government Responsibilities for Regulating Development and Protecting Wildlife. GAO-05-906. Washington D. C. 64 pp. it, the report states that wind power kills bats, and in this part of the country it kills bats in large numbers. That is a fact, not in dispute. Estimates I have seen, have gone from the conservative of 5000 bats per wind site per year, to the very liberal of about 60,000 bats per site per year.

The economic value of bats has been documented many times. Bats are the major predators of all our nocturnal insects. They consume large numbers of insect pests including many of our most troublesome crop pests. All bats in Pennsylvania feed on insects. The economic value of bats as a biological control agent for insects is estimated to be in the multi billions of dollars annually in the US alone. As such, they are considered to be ecological keystone species. This being the keystone state, I'm sure many of us might be aware of what that means. The keystone is the stone that bears the majority of the weight in an archway. If it is disturbed or removed, the archway collapses. Bats are keystone species in our ecosystem. They play a vital role in maintaining it, and if disturbed or reduced, the ecosystem as we know it will collapse. However, bat populations are declining worldwide, mostly due to the actions of man.

As bats have a very low reproduction rate, where each female produces only one offspring or pup per year, any event that causes a population decline can take many years to recover from. Any event that repeatedly kills bats, year after year, in large numbers, can be devastating to a population. The proliferation of numerous wind sites in this part of the country, most of which have or are being documented to have such an effect on bats, could be the most serious threat to our bat populations, our biological insect control, that science has seen. The chances that a wind facility in this area will have a negative impact on our bat populations appears to be extremely high. Government Officials, with a responsibility of protecting our valuable natural resources, have a responsibility that before they allow construction of such a facility, they insure that the sites have been evaluated for their potential impact on bats and other wildlife. Just as the power companies evaluate it for wind, and place these facilities only in area where there is sufficient wind blowing, they need also to be evaluated for their environmental impact and sites that have a high potential to negatively impact wildlife should be avoided.

Current state requirements and voluntary regulations are simply not sufficient to protect our natural resources when it comes to wind energy development. Based on numerous scientific and government reports, the Pennsylvania Biological Survey Mammal Technical Committee has developed a list of best current scientific principles as it pertains to wind development and impact on bats. I would urge, that as the only government regulatory board to oversee wind development at this site in Pennsylvania, and with a responsibility to protect our environment and natural resources, require that any development proceed along these guidelines and properly assess the impact of this site on our wildlife, with accepted scientific rigor.
Other documents you may wish to review in this process are below.

Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans: "Gone with the Wind: Impacts of Wind Turbines on Birds and Bats. 2007. Oversight Hearing.

Kunz, T. H., E. B. Arnett, W. P. Erickson, A. R. Hoar, G. D. Johnson, R. P. Larkin, M. D. Strickland, R. W. Thresher, and M. D. Tuttle. 2007. Ecological impacts of wind energy development on bats: questions, research needs, and hypotheses. Front. Ecol. Environ., 5:315¬

National Research Council of the National Academy. 2007. Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects. National Academies Press, Washington, DC.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service (2003) Memorandum to Regional Directors, Regions1-7 on Service Interim Guidance on Avoiding and Minimizing Wildlife Impacts from Wind Turbines, 13 May 2003, 57 pp.


NOV 4 2007
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