Kirksville, Mo. – An effort to increase Missouri’s wind energy industry in the region could see an adverse effect on one of the state’s endangered and protected animals.
High Prairie Wind Energy, owned by Wind Capital Group, is seeking to create a wind farm just north of Queen City, but the development will likely harm or kill Indiana bats, one of 14 bat species in the state.
In order to overcome that challenge, the project will need an incidental take permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will take into account a habitat conservation plan to be developed by High Prairie.
An open house held Tuesday in Kirksville provided state and federal officials an opportunity to hear from residents and landowners about their concerns as well as let the public learn about the proposed project.
While still early in the development phase, if everything goes as hoped, groundbreaking could start anywhere from 12-30 months, said Wind Capital Group Vice-President of Development Sean Stocker.
“You don’t get into the wind industry to not be environmentally-conscious,” he said. “We all want it to be done in a responsible way.”
The project area, 4,200 acres of private land just north of Queen City, is planned to support 31 wind turbines.
Missouri, and the northeastern region, is home to the endangered Indiana bat along with 13 other species that are responsible for consuming large numbers of insects each night, many of which are agricultural pests, said Shauna Marquardt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist.
“While the project area is not one of high activity, there’s still the direct impact from bats flying into the turbines or being uprooted because of the construction process,” she said. “Discussions like these and issuing an incidental take permit is really a cooperative process between U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the energy companies.”
In order for the project to progress past the development stage, the federal government will need to issue the incidental take permit which takes into account a plan to mitigate and offset the environmental impact of the wind farm.
“Those permits are a compromise between green energy and wildlife,” Marquardt said.
The habitat conservation plan will provide comprehensive measures for long-term conservation of the Indiana bats and other species and will, along with an environmental assessment, be used by U.S. Fish and Wildlife to assess the incidental take permit application.
“The idea is, to the maximum extent possible, of off-setting or mitigating the results of the otherwise lawful activity where harming an endangered species is unavoidable,” said Jane Ledwin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist.
The proposed project will consist of wind turbine generators, transformers at the base of each turbine, access roads, an operations building and other infrastructure, in addition to the other economic impact on the region.
The application for the take permit is expected to be completed within the next week with the possibility of the permit’s issuance by this summer.
From there, it could be 6-24 months until the first shovel is put into the ground, Stocker said. He also said legislative efforts to establish how to implement Proposition C, which requires Missouri energy producers to utilize green energy, are still in limbo but not a major issue.
“While, with Proposition C, and the local versus national sourcing of energy, you’re definitely competing globally,” he said. “In the past, Missouri has not been the best area for wind power, but more efficient turbines have made it economically viable for that energy to be produced locally.”
Development of another wind farm project, by Trade Wind, in Adair and Sullivan counties has been held up, waiting for a legislative decision to see if energy producers will be allowed to go outside of the state to purchase their green energy or energy credits.
The Indiana bat was listed as an endangered species in 1967 due to large population declines believed to be linked to disturbances in caves where the bats roost and hibernate during winter. It is not known exactly why wind turbines seem to attract bat populations, Fish and Wildlife officials said.