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TCU lab tries to save bats from death by wind turbine

In photos from the lab, an eastern red bat attempts to drink from a smooth surface similar to a wind turbine.
In photos from the lab, an eastern red bat attempts to drink from a smooth surface similar to a wind turbine. Courtesy

Texas may be known for oil, but it is also the nation’s largest producer of wind energy. And while renewable energy is generally a good thing to most people, it’s not great for bats. Those towering wind turbines that harness the wind’s power kill a lot of bats every year.

When you drive by a wind farm out in the countryside, populated with soaring white turbines, their blades slowly spinning, it’s a bit of an illusion. Texas Christian University biologist Amanda Hale says those blades may look like they’re lazily twirling along, but the tip of a 120-foot blade is moving fast, creating a kill zone.

“Those blade tips, at wind speeds at which bats will be flying, are well over 150 to 200 miles an hour,” says Hale, who is leading a team trying to find ways to keep bats from being killed by turbines. “And so as they’re echo-locating and they’re flying, there’s nothing there. And then bam, the blade comes and kills them.”

Now, bats may give you the creeps. The winged mammals have gotten a bad wrap — Dracula and all that — but Hale says they play a big role in the ecosystem. For one, the same agricultural pests that farmers battle are dinner for bats.

Full story and audio at KERA.org.

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