Judge Halts West Virginia Wind Farm to Save Bats

Published January 21, 2010

The wind power industry has suffered a setback as U.S. District Judge Roger Titus has ruled wind turbines under construction on a mountain ridge in West Virginia would kill and injure thousands of endangered Indiana bats.

Permit Required

With his December 8 decision Titus brought work on the $300 million wind farm project in picturesque Greenbrier County to a screeching halt. Titus chided the project’s developers, Beech Ridge Energy and its parent company, Invenergy LLC, for failing to seek a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for an “incidental take” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Under the ruling the two companies will be allowed to proceed with a scaled-back version of the project.

The legal challenge to the wind farm came from two environmental groups–the Washington, DC-based Animal Welfare Institute and the West Virginia-based Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy–and David Cowen, a local spelunker.

‘Must Be Good Neighbors’

In siding with the wind farm’s opponents, Titus wrote, “the development of wind energy can and should be encouraged, but wind turbines must be good neighbors.”

Beech Ridge Energy originally planned to build 122 wind turbines along 23 miles of mountain ridges. Titus will allow the company to complete work on 40 turbines under construction at the time of the trial. How many more will be built on the site will depend on the outcome of FWS’s notoriously slow permitting process.

Conflicting Interests

The proliferation of wind farms and solar energy facilities in previously undeveloped areas has unleashed a backlash within the environmental movement, of which the West Virginia court case is but one example.

“The greens don’t want alternative energy either,” said Robert J. Smith, senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research. “Yes, they love it in theory, or at least promise its acceptance and approval if we will just get rid of the polluting energy sources of the past. But once an actual project is proposed and planning gets underway for a facility large enough to light anything other than a two-room apartment, the greens are up in arms to bring it to a halt.

“There are enough listed species [under the ESA] spread across the continent and enough obscure and little-known species that could be listed that almost any type of energy project anywhere could be halted,” Smith added. “In fact, the FWS has already suggested that the Indiana bat is also subject to coal-mining impacts in West Virginia, so the bat trumps energy from the air or from the ground.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC.