Wind Farm May Violate Endangered Species Act

Published September 1, 2009

Environmentalist groups have filed a federal lawsuit to require operators of a proposed West Virginia wind farm to obtain a “takings” permit under the Endangered Species Act before they can begin operations.

According to the Animal Welfare Institute and Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, the proposed Beech Ridge Energy wind farm in Greenbrier County will disrupt the habitat and likely kill an unacceptable number of endangered Indiana bats.

Road Building Has Begun

Beech Ridge Energy received approval for the project from the state Public Service Commission after four years of government study and community opposition. The company has begun clearing brush and building roads to haul turbine parts to the site of the proposed wind farm.

Beech Ridge Energy plans to construct 124 turbines—each 390 feet tall—along a 23-mile stretch of mountain ridge tops.

Few Bats Remain

According to the Animal Welfare Institute and Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, the proposed wind farm will injure and kill scores of Indiana bats that live in caves near the wind farm.

The groups say Beech Ridge Energy will be violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to obtain a federal “incidental take” permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This permit is required if an otherwise-lawful activity results in the incidental death of or harm to an endangered species.

Beech Ridge Energy conducted two studies to count bats in the area, but opponents say the surveys are inadequate. A proper bat count and estimation of resultant bat deaths is necessary, the lawsuit states, because the Indiana bat is one of the most endangered land mammals in the world.

Turbines in Critical Habitat

According to the environmental groups, a local cave expert has identified 27 caves within five miles of the project site, and another 113 caves between five and 10 miles from the site, that serve as Indiana bat habitat.

In addition to deaths caused by wind turbine blades directly striking bats, the lawsuit alleges the whirring of gigantic turbine blades will create low-pressure zones that cause bats’ lungs to hemorrhage, killing them almost instantly.

‘Largely Discarded Technology’

The environmental groups claim they are not seeking to stop wind power projects completely, but they believe developers must choose a more-suitable location and better mitigate environmental damage.

Tom Stacy, president of Save Western Ohio, has long opposed similar wind farms in neighboring Ohio.

“Sacrificing anything, especially endangered species, to enable one of the dumbest modern energy ideas imaginable is anathema,” Stacy said.

“Wind is an ancient and largely discarded energy technology that can only provide volatile, sporadic energy, not the modern power performance and effective capacity we rely upon for affordable, secure electricity,” said Stacy. “Massive wind projects sited throughout West Virginia’s ridge tops will not close one coal plant.”

Penny Rodriguez ([email protected]) writes from Parrish, Florida.