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Bat carcass stops wind farm’s nighttime operation

Duke Energy shut down nighttime operations at its wind farm in Cambria and Blair counties after the carcass of an endangered bat was found at the facility in September.

The North Carolina-based company, which has operated the North Allegheny Windpower Project since September 2009, is working on a plan with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pennsylvania Game Commission to protect the endangered Indiana bat while operating its 35-turbine facility.

The bat carcass was found Sept. 26 by an environmental consultant that Duke Energy hired to conduct voluntary daily wildlife monitoring, said company spokesman Greg Efthimiou.

The environmental consultant suspected the carcass was that of an Indiana bat, and an expert was called in to confirm.

The company immediately began shutting off its turbines at night, from 30 minutes before dusk until 30 minutes after dawn. Officials contacted the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Game Commission.

“We have not restarted nighttime operations in large part because it’s migratory bat season, which typically concludes around the middle of November and also because we’re in daily discussions with the Fish and Wildlife Service on short- and long-term operational adjustments we can make at the site to help avoid future Indiana bat mortality,” Efthimiou said.

The power generated at the facility is sold to First Energy as part of a long-term agreement in place when Duke purchased it in July 2009.

“We’re certainly generating less zero emission renewable power at the site as a result of our nighttime curtailment, but we felt it was the appropriate action to take in light of the discovery of an endangered Indiana bat on our property,” Efthimiou said.

Clint Riley, supervisor of the Pennsylvania field office of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the incident is the first time a dead Indiana bat was found at a wind turbine in the state.

While the groups are working on long-term solutions, Duke will, at the least, be able to resume nighttime operations by mid-November, when the bat begins hibernation, Riley said.

Stopping nighttime operations is the best option for now, he added.

Duke employees took it upon “themselves immediately and we encouraged them to use that as the cleanest way to ensure there wouldn’t be anymore (bat deaths) right now while we explore options,” Riley said.

“There are a lot of discussions to come, but we’re pleased they did what they were supposed to do (by reporting the endangered species death), and we’re pleased they were taking monitoring seriously enough that we were all aware this happened in the first place.”

Indiana bat

• The bats, which are found in the East, were first listed as an endangered species in 1967.

• They are small, weighing only one-quarter of an ounce with a wingspan of 9 to 11 inches.

• Populations are threatened by human disturbance of hibernation sites, loss of summer habitat, and most recently, white-nose syndrome, a bat disease. About 387,000 Indiana bats remained as of 2009, less than half as many as when the species was first listed endangered in 1967.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service