SHEFFIELD – The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) has issued the first permit of its kind for a wind project in the state allowing a small number of fatalities of endangered bats, which could collide with the turbine blades or be affected by the pressure changes created by the rotating turbines.
The permit was granted to First Wind, the Boston-based firm that operates the 16-turbine project in Sheffield.
The permit application drew high public interest, including at a lengthy, emotional hearing at Sheffield Town Hall in July. Many people spoke against the permit, and warned about the shrinking populations of several types of bats in the state including Little Brown Bats, which are on the decline due to White-Nose syndrome.
“Flight activity (of bats) in proximity to wind turbines makes bats vulnerable to mortality by collision with the blades or by barotrauma caused by rapid changes in pressure from being swept up into the rotors,” the permit notes.
The permit issued by the ANR allows for the incidental taking or fatalities of a maximum of four Little Brown Bats, one Northern Long-Eared Bat, one Tri-Colored Bat and one Eastern Small-Footed Bat. “There is substantial evidence that the operation of the turbines of the size utilized by the Project will result in the taking of the species listed,” the permit notes. “Fatalities of bats have been recorded at wind facilities worldwide…Bat fatalities at wind energy facilities are considered to be especially high at wind facilities on forested ridges in the eastern U.S. such as the Project.”
In a release issued last week, First Wind stated, “We appreciate the Agency of Natural Resources careful review of our request for a permit. We’re proud to have implemented a first-of-its kind program to monitor and study bats and limit turbine operation during certain times of the year in order to protect bats in the area, and we look forward to continuing that work in accordance with the permit.”
John Lamontagne, spokesman for First Wind, said a bat study conducted at the wind project in 2012 has found that none of the “documented protected species were taken.”
In issuing the permit, Secretary of the Vermont ANR Deb Markowitz stated, “The Agency received many letters, emails, and phone calls, and staff collected comments from a well attended public hearing. Much of the interest in this permit is, no doubt, fueled by interest in revisiting the debate on the costs and benefits of wind energy.”
One of five statutory reasons must be cited for a takings permit to be issued, noted Markowitz, and the wind energy company cited economic hardship. “Under this criteria, individuals and businesses may take an otherwise protected species in order to allow for the orderly development of the state. Twenty-six taking permits have been issued so far this year,” she noted.
“Vermont Wind provided evidence that if they were to shut down every night from May to November, the only way to ensure no bats would be taken, they would see a 25 percent drop in revenue,” noted Markowitz in issuing her decision on granting the permit. That, she said, would meet the criteria for economic hardship.
As part of the Agency’s scrutiny for the permit, Markowitz stated that “Agency scientists determined that the number of listed bats potentially taken will likely be less than 0.1 percent of the entire population in the state. Should the project take more bats than provided for in the permit, the Agency has the authority to impose greater restrictions, including shutting the facility down completely when the chance of taking (bat deaths) listed is high.”
“The permit issued today requires Vermont Wind to limit the operation of its turbines during the times of year when bats are most likely to be injured,” specifies Markowitz. “The proposed operational adjustments have been shown to be extremely effective. In order to mitigate the impact on the bats that are taken, Vermont Wind will be partnering with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bat Conservation International, and Texas Tech University, to fund and undertake a rigorous scientific study to measure the efficacy of such measures and, if possible, devise strategies to improve them. The results of this study will not only assure that fewer bats will be harmed at Vermont Wind, but will also inform and guide other wind facilities in Vermont.”
“Lastly, many who have reached out to the Agency have a sincere interest in the conservation and protections of bat species,” stated Markowitz. “Because the primary threats to Vermont’s endangered bats are not wind energy projects, but other factors such as the disease called White-nose Syndrome, disturbance to hibernating bats in caves and mines, and persecution by homeowners and household pets, I want the public to know that there are actions each of us can do at home to help Vermont’s bat population.”
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, stated, “We cannot afford to lose any more bats. This permit is typical, after-the-fact behavior for large wind projects. They build it in a rush, and then afterwards try to figure out how to fix the problems they create, and can say the projects are ‘too big to fail,’ so we have to let them keep operating – even though they are killing endangered species and creating noise problems for their neighbors. The solution for both the bats and the people is to to turn the turbines off at night.”
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