2:35 p.m., March 7, 2011----The University of Delaware's 2-megawatt wind turbine is the site of new research that will help answer a common question about the alternative energy producers: How do they affect birds and bats?
The two-year project, which will assess the mortality risk of birds and bats around the turbine, is led by UD Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology researchers Jeffrey Buler and Gregory Shriver. It is funded by First State Marine Wind, a partnership between UD-owned Blue Hen Wind and turbine manufacturer Gamesa. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) also committed funds to support the effort.
A complementary project at the wind turbine that focuses solely on bats is being conducted by an expert at Delaware State University and is funded by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
While a University-commissioned pre-construction study found that the turbine's impacts on birds are likely to be minimal, that study also recommended that UD undertake post-construction monitoring. One motivating factor is the machine's location at UD's Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, which sits along an important international flyway stopover for migrating birds. UD and Gamesa thus placed a priority on this research once the turbine was up and running (it began producing power in summer 2010).
The research also fulfills UD obligations under the federal National Environmental Policy Act. UD has been working closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DNREC and other stakeholders on the scope of the study.
“The results of the study will be useful for other coastal communities considering wind turbines and ought to provide some useful lessons for offshore wind energy projects,” said Jeremy Firestone, associate professor of marine policy. Firestone is a wind energy expert and faculty member in UD's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) and CEOE's Center for Carbon-free Power Integration (CCPI).
The UD project began March 1, with spring and fall sampling periods focusing on birds and bats migrating through the area and summer and winter periods on resident bird and bat flight activity.
During each of the four seasons, the researchers will use a variety of techniques to collect data. Acoustic monitoring, visual surveys, radar, and thermal imaging will provide information on bird and bat traffic and flight patterns. Spring and fall carcass searches around the turbine will help determine the fatality rate.
Local and regional weather data, which will help researchers understand bird and bat movement, will be provided by a nearby meteorological tower and the National Weather Service.
“We want to monitor how much bird and bat activity there is in the vicinity of the turbine so we have a context for how much risk there may be for them to collide with the turbine,” said Buler, who specializes in using radar to track bird migration.
The scientists also want to know which birds and bats are moving through the area. Although the main focus is on migrating land birds and bats, other types of birds also occur near the turbine throughout the year. These include raptors, waterfowl, marsh birds, and shorebirds.
The team expects to have a final report of data and analysis completed by December 2013. They will present findings at technical meetings and publish them in scientific journals. The researchers also will share their bat data with Delaware State's Kevina Vulinec, an expert on the winged mammals whose research looks to determine the type of bats around the turbine and their behavior.
“We are pleased by the collaboration with Delaware State University,” Firestone said. “These research projects are a prime example of how the UD wind turbine can serve as a platform for important research that will benefit society.”
Article by Elizabeth Boyle
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson