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Research team probes wind turbines effect on bat population

| Friday, Oct. 17, 2008

SUMMIT -- One of the world's largest wind power owner-operators is making history here on one of the numerous ridges that comprise the Allegheny Mountains.

Some 65 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, in Somerset County, Iberdrola Renewables Inc. agreed to let an independent scientific team study the impact of turbines on the local bat population when the company's 10-month-old wind farm in Summit Township is temporarily shut down.

Believed to be a first by a wind farm owner, Iberdrola Renewables provided funding for the project, conducted by representatives of Bat Conservation International, an Austin, Texas, organization dedicated to bat conservation, education and research initiatives.

"Iberdrola deserves a great deal of credit to approve doing this controversial study," said Ed Arnett, Bat Conservation's chief wind scientist, speaking at Thursday's formal dedication of Iberdrola's Casselman Wind Power Project. "The research from this project will resonate worldwide."

"The natural reaction to stopping the turbines is that it prevents us from selling the wind mills' power," said Don Furman, senior vice president for development, transmission and policy for Portland, Ore.-based Iberdrola. "But then when you examine it, they want to shut down the turbines only for a few hours at dusk during the late summer-early fall, when the bats are most active, but also our natural slow period for producing power."

The more than $34 million Casselman project consists of 23 turbines generating 34.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to meet the needs of more than 10,000 homes, according to the American Wind Energy Association's calculations. Casselman is Pennsylvania's third-largest wind farm in terms of power generating capacity.

All the project's power is being purchased via a 23-year lease by Akron, Ohio-based First Energy Corp., which provides power to customers in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Pennsylvania has become a wind power hub east of the Mississippi River, with the state trailing only New York in terms of existing wind power capacity.

Total power capacity statewide is 293.53 megawatts, with an additional 272.2 megawatts under construction. One megawatt can power up to 1,000 homes.

Five of the state's 10 existing wind farms are situated in Southwest Pennsylvania, with four of those -- totalling nearly 84 megawatts of capacity -- in Somerset County. The others are near Somerset, Garrett and Meyersdale.

Furman said agreeing to and helping to sponsor the bat study also generates goodwill for Iberdrola from the bat community.

Bats, Arnett said, have gotten a bad rap, particularly from Hollywood via movies and television programs. He said they are vital to the health of the environment.

"They are primary predators of night-flying insects, like birds are during the day," Arnett said. "Some also are important plant pollinators and seed dispersers."

The Casselman project, which began generating electricity in February, already was host for more than two years to what Arnett said was the largest-ever study of acoustic monitoring at a wind farm site before construction commenced.

With the turbines now spinning, pre-construction and post-construction data will be analyzed and compared to determine what impact the turbines have on the local bat population.

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