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How many bats are being killed?

The Laurel Mountain Preservation Association wants to know how many bats are being killed by the AES Laurel Mountain Wind Project. The two sides went before the state Public Service Commission Monday.

LMPA attorney Brad Stephens says they’ve been trying to get some basic numbers from AES’s bat detection system but the company has refused to share that information.

“Think of this purely as a public interest matter,” Stephens urged the commission. “Reopen the case for the limited purpose of directing the discovery to the company, having them respond to the call data. This is a tempest in a tea pot.”

AES was granted a permit back in November 2008 to build 65 wind turbines along a ridge line between Elkins and Belington. So far five of those turbines have been completed. The total cost of the project is estimated at $250 million.

The LMPA tried to stop the project from getting approval from the beginning. One of their arguments was the construction of the turbines would destroy the habitat of the endangered Indiana Bat and Virginia Big Ear bat.

AES attorney Christopher Callas says the LMPA is simply digging for information they already know the answer to.

“The LMPA contends they are concerned about the belief there is an unacceptable risk to bats raised by this project. It’s the exact same thing that they brought to the commission in the certificate case. It’s the exact same thing that they raised with you on their petition for reconsideration. It’s the exact same thing that they took to the [state] Supreme Court,” Callas said.

LMPA lost all three of those battles. But Stephens told the Commission AES is being usually unhelpful with a simple request.

“We’re just asking them to answer some questions.”

Stephens says the company’s reluctance to give them the answers they’re seeking speaks volumes.

“My question would be, what does the company have to hide?”

According to Callas nothing. But he believes LMPA is simply using their bat concerns as a way to reopen the case and stop work on the wind farm.

“If…what [Stephens] says is true and they do not really wish to reopen this case but they just want some data from the company, then this is an abuse of the Commission’s processes to get information after the certificate case is long closed,” Callas said.

PSC Chairman Michael Albert made it clear the commission was not ready to rule on the request.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a decision from the bench,” he said. “But we will attempt to expedite it and get you a ruling as quickly as we can.”

No word on when that ruling will be handed down.