How to build and operate a bat-friendly wind turbine

bat roosting photo
Video screen capture Ecotricity

The blanket "wind turbines are bird blenders" statement has been a long been the bane of many renewable energy advocates. Yet, like any industry, renewables operators have a responsibility to carefully manage and mitigate their impact on the natural world.

When the UK's most prominent bird conservation charity, the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), decided to install a 100m high wind turbine at their headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire, there was a predictable outcry from anti-wind lobbying groups. The charity, however, is well aware of the devastating impact that climate change will have on birds and other wildlife, so they were determined to press ahead with cutting their carbon emissions while mitigating any harm to the local environment. (The turbine is expected to provide enough electricity to power half of the RSPBs 127 locations' power needs.)

The video below shows how, together with renewable energy provider Ecotricity, they managed to have their birdseed cake and eat it too. (It also has some cool time-lapse footage of the turbine being built.)

Essentially, by conducting an extensive, year-round assessment of wildlife at the site, and comparing it with a control study nearby, they were able to identify exactly what species of birds and bats were likely to be in-flight and at what times of the day. While bird kills turned out to be a relatively small concern at this specific site, there were some worries about specific species of bats. Luckily, those bats are only likely to be in-flight around dawn and dusk at wind speeds between 2 and 5 meters per second—so Ecotricity and RSPB implemented a mitigation plan by which the turbine is shut off for half an hour before and after dusk, whenever wind speeds are below 7 meters per second.

Assuming it works as intended, it's a simple, elegant solution. And while electricity output will be slightly compromised, the trade off of demonstrating to the public that renewables and conservation can exist hand-in-hand is surely worth a slightly lower yield.

How to build and operate a bat-friendly wind turbine
When a bird charity installs a wind turbine, they're going to do it right.

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