January 20, 2006
Wind Generator to Use Fire to Examine Bats
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The nation's largest generator of wind power plans to use fire to study bat habitats. FPL Energy LLC operates 43 wind farms in 15 states, including the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in Tucker County.
The company is teaming up with an environmental engineering firm and the U.S. Forest Service's Northeastern Research Station on the conservation project.The project involves prescribed burning in a 4,000-acre experimental forest in Tucker County. The region is home to seven species of bats, including the federally endangered Indiana bat.
Researchers hope to develop conditions to maximize the bats' use of oak tree bark and foliage as summer day roosts. Oak trees are fire resistant while others like sugar and red maples are not.
"Several bat species look for that kind of structure in their dayroost habit, but they also like where the canopy is a little more open and receive quite a bit of sun," said Mark Ford, a research wildlife biologist with the Forest Service.
FPL Energy also is funding a project in which gates will be installed and evaluated for their impact on cave bats at the University of Central Oklahoma's Selman Living Laboratory.
The two are among 27 potential bat projects that the company has identified in seven states.
Wind power is one of the fastest-growing sources of renewable energy but it poses a dilemma for environmentalists, who support its pollution-free electricity but have grown increasingly alarmed at its death toll on birds and bats.
A study last year of the 44-turbine Mountaineer wind farm estimated that at least 1,364 bats were killed there during a six-week period in 2004.
"We think that it's incumbent upon us to learn as much as we can about bats just as our company and our industry has done with birds over the years," said Steve Stengel, spokesman for Juno Beach, Fla.-based FPL Energy LLC. "We view this as a natural extension of our learning."
Stengel said the conservation projects are unrelated to wind-farm operations.
"These were projects that were in the works before FPL Energy ever became involved. We're providing funding to get these projects over the finish line," he said. "If we're able to help fund it and help learn something about bat conservation, then everybody wins."