Evidence suggests we are close to stone ignorant on the effects of wind turbine farms on New York wildlife, even after years of supposed study by industry proponents.
Couple that ignorance with little regulation at the moment, and we are courting disappointment if not disaster unless we do a lot more homework before permitting any of the approximately 2,000 turbines currently in the state's approval pipeline.
We've learned of a new victim of wind turbines: bats. Mostly the migratory species, which are the less common ones, but all bats are getting hammered by the whirling blades, and in great numbers.
This is a revelation coming out of recent studies in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Scientific papers aren't even out on the subject yet. All of this has great application for us here in New York.
While bats in general are not a sexy species and get lousy press, they are vital to a healthy ecosystem. So before you shudder at the thought, consider that those fragile little winged mammals are one of our primary insect control agents. And they do their best work when you are asleep.
"The highest mortalities seem to be along forested ridge areas in the eastern United States," says Tom Kunz, professor of biology at Boston University and director of BU's Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology. He also is among the leading bat researchers in America.
Kunz says that out West, birds, not bats, appear to be particularly vulnerable to wind turbines. Here in the East, it's the reverse.
But Kunz, who probably knows as much about American bats as anyone, is quick to point out that our ignorance about bats and wind turbines overwhelms our knowledge. We don't know why bats are being mangled by those rotating blades, or even how.
Why isn't their natural sonar alerting them? Are the lights often found on turbines luring them, or are the bug masses coming to those lights a factor? We don't even know if the thousands of bats being killed are significant numbers, because total populations are a wild guess.
Last year, New York's controversial power plant siting law, Article 10 of the Public Service Law, sunset. As it was written, the law steamrolled approvals without adequate environmental oversight. For now, a cumbersome but narrow siting process for wind farms is administered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. It's a process that doesn't include any funds or requirements for the sort of in-depth study we need to address bat and migratory bird mortalities. To clarify the big picture.
Ironically, we need the return of an Article 10 siting law, but a more balanced one. For the sake of statewide uniformity and standards as to where wind turbine farms are appropriate.
And to require applicants to fund solid wildlife research on bats and birds and others, before these alternative energy darlings become permanent on the landscape.
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