CLAYTON – Iberdrola Renewables is considering options for Horse Creek Wind Farm about two weeks after it told the Clayton Planning Board it was suspending its application.
While the company insists it was an internal decision, its representative did admit that the nearby Indiana bat population was a consideration. Indiana bats are an endangered species and there is a hibernation spot near the proposed wind project.
The bats also have been affected by white nose syndrome, the mysterious ailment that has killed thousands of bats. The loss of the endangered species to disease has made federal wildlife experts even more sensitive to losses induced by man.
“We have no real timeline,” said Paul N. Copleman, communications manager. “Certainly, we believe it’s still a good wind site.”
He said the company still has four meteorological towers collecting wind data.
Almost since the beginning of the project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it has been asking the company to consider other locations because of the project’s proximity to a known Indiana bat hibernation site.
Any deaths, even accidental, of an endangered species must be covered by a permit from the service for developers to avoid prosecution.
“Once we learned about white nose syndrome, it only enhanced our pre-existing concerns,” said Robyn A. Niver, endangered species biologist with Fish and Wildlife.
Other concerns about the site include the potential for killing bald eagles, destroying small wetlands and pushing building-shy grassland birds away from the area. They were outlined in the service’s response to the draft environmental impact statement submitted to the Planning Board.
In a coordination meeting in April, the service told Iberdrola staff that it had identified white nose syndrome at the Indiana bats’ wintering site in Glen Park.
Ms. Niver said the service has similar concerns about Acciona’s St. Lawrence Wind Farm and BP’s Cape Vincent Wind Farm, both in Cape Vincent. Those projects are also within 20 miles of Glen Park.
“For Indiana bats, we’re not concerned with all wind projects in the state, just in certain areas,” she said.
She said waiting a year would give the service and the developer much more information. The service does a population survey of bats every other year, and this winter will be the survey year.
“Certainly Iberdrola has been doing a great job trying to find ways to minimize the impacts,” Ms. Niver said.
But, she said, “It’s unclear whether they could minimize the impacts enough.”
Mr. Copleman said the company already has about three years of bat studies.
“We’re discussing what more we could do,” he said.
Both the Cape Vincent and St. Lawrence wind farms are proceeding with their applications.
“We continue to move forward,” said Pete Zedick, St. Lawrence project manager.
The service did meet with the developers to give guidelines on a bat study and will meet again on the results of the study within the next month. The developer’s study is separate from the service’s population study to be conducted this winter.
“We’ve been in close contact with them,” Mr. Zedick said.
Some other projects in the country are facing legal challenges from environmental protection groups owing to Indiana bat populations.
NedPower’s Mount Storm Wind Project in Grant County, W.Va., has been threatened with a lawsuit based on the Endangered Species Act and nearby populations of Indiana bats, Virginia big-eared bats and Virginia northern flying squirrels.
NedPower completed a biological assessment for predicting the effects of the wind farm on the two bat species in 2004. In that report, the developer stated the site is 17 miles east of the completed Mountaineer Wind Project, which had an estimated 1,400 to 4,000 bat fatalities in 2003. None of the 475 confirmed fatalities were Indiana bats, even though four caves used by Indiana bats are within 20 miles.
A similar lawsuit may be pursued against Gamesa Energy’s Shafer Mountain Wind Project in Somerset County, Pa., because of Indiana bats and golden eagles.
So far, no post-construction bat fatality studies have found dead Indiana bats or other endangered bat species. A paper titled “Patterns of Bat Fatalities at Wind Energy Facilities in North America” looked at 21 fatality studies at 20 wind farms in the U.S. and Canada. It was published this year in the Journal of Wildlife Management.
The authors, led by Edward B. Arnett of Bat Conservation International, cautioned that it is difficult for facility studies to be accurate in counting bat deaths. Sometimes, it’s hard to find bat carcasses or search frequently enough to find them before they decay or are eaten by scavengers.
But, in compiling other studies, the researchers found, “No study reported a species of bat listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act killed at a wind facility. However, there were few facilities operating within the range of threatened and endangered species such as the Indiana bat.”
By Nancy Madsen
Times Staff Writer
21 June 2008
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