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West Virginia wind farm construction completed

A southeastern West Virginia wind farm that was the subject of a federal lawsuit involving endangered Indiana bats is in operation with limited hours, a company official said Monday.

David Groberg, vice president of Beech Ridge Energy LLC, said construction of the 100.5 megawatt Greenbrier County wind farm was completed in mid-August, but the company delayed making the announcement. Electricity produced by the 67 turbines is being sold to Appalachian Power.

Construction of the project was halted last December when a federal judge in Maryland agreed with two environmental groups that the wind farm could harm the endangered bat. The judge also ruled that Beech Ridge had failed to obtain an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Such permits are required for projects that might harm federally-listed endangered or threatened wildlife.

Groberg said work on the permit is continuing. “It’s a very thorough process,” he said.

A public comment period on the permit ended last month. The federal agency is not expected to complete its environmental impact statement on the project, or make a decision on the permit until next spring.

In the meantime, the wind farm is able to operate under the terms of a settlement to the federal lawsuit.

The settlement allows the turbines to spin 24-hours-a-day between mid-November and April 1 when the bats are hibernating.

The turbines can only be operated during daylight hours the remaining 7.5 months when the bats are active.

The agreement is designed to protect the Indiana bat, which are known to live in the area. The bat has been has been on the federal endangered list since 1967. Officials estimate there are less than 400,000 bats surviving in the eastern United States, and 15,000 in West Virginia.

The state Public Service Commission approved the project in 2006, but it took a state Supreme Court ruling to clear the way for construction. Local residents sued claiming the wind farm would harm property values and views. The wind farm is located on a 23-mile stretch of ridgeline owned by Virginia-based MeadWestvaco.

Beech Ridge Energy is owned by Chicago-based Invenergy.