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Researchers Alarmed by Bat Deaths From Wind Turbines

Researchers do not know why bats are flying into the turbines. Armed with radar and thermal imaging cameras, they are trying to come up with recommendations for wind power developers to avoid the problem. Researchers are uncertain whether bats are attracted to the spinning blades or if their sonar, which allows them to find food and avoid trees and other objects, fails to detect the turbines.

None of the species of bats found on the two mountains is endangered, said Albert M. Manville II, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The carcasses found include those of hoary, red and eastern pipistrelle bats. The deaths appear to violate no federal laws, Manville said, but the threat is serious. Unless a solution is found, he said, the turbines could get a reputation as being "bat Veg-o-matics."

Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in West Virginia has been deadly for a large number of bats. (Dale Sparks -- AP)

The large number of dead bats caught the wind power industry by surprise, and now its leaders are scrambling to find a solution.

"It was something that when we found out about it we felt we needed to respond to immediately," said Laurie Jodziewicz of the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, which also is participating in the research. "What we wanted to do this year was to get a handle on what's going on. "

The wind industry confronted its biggest environmental challenge when early model turbines in Northern California killed large numbers of birds. The industry says newer turbines and more attention to site selection have dramatically cut the number of bird deaths in subsequent projects around the country, though some environmentalists say too many birds are still dying.

The turbines tend to attract a lot of attention as they pop up around the country, but they are responsible for generating a tiny amount of electricity in the United States.

Last year, the industry said, it provided nearly 17 billion kilowatt hours, enough to serve some 1.6 million households -- less than 1 percent of the country's electricity production. Analysts said future expansion of the industry will be tied largely to whether the tax break remains on the books.

Wind power is generally more costly than generating electricity by more conventional methods -- though analysts said federal and state subsidies make the alternative more attractive. In addition, they said that as natural gas prices rise, wind becomes more competitive.

An increasing number of states require that a certain amount of power come from renewable sources, such as wind. During debate over federal energy legislation in previous years, some interest groups called for a requirement that renewable sources account for a certain percentage of the nation's electricity production.

In the East, wind has only recently caught on, and the most preferable areas are on mountains where wind tends to be most powerful.

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