The Buckeye Wind Project in Champaign County was issued an incidental take permit for an endangered bat this week, clearing one of several remaining hurdles necessary before construction can begin.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a habitat conservation plan and issued the permit, which will set conditions under which the wind turbines must operate in order to protect the endangered Indiana bat, which has been found in the project’s footprint.
The agency has been working with the wind farm since at least 2008 when the bat was discovered. It may be the first time nationally that the wildlife service had to develop this type of permit for a wind farm, said Megan Seymour, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This is definitely a first for the fish and wildlife service and the wind industry,” Seymour said.
The permit sets a limit of 130 Indiana bats that can be killed or injured throughout the life of the project, or about 5.2 bats per year. However, to mitigate those losses and protect the species, the permit also requires the wind farm to protect and improve about 217 acres of Indiana bat habitat near a hibernation area in Preble County.
In addition, the permit requires the wind farm to operate in a way that is designed to protect the local bat population, Seymour said.
For example, turbines will be expected to vary their cut-in speeds depending on their location and the time of year in order to minimize the number of bats that collide with the turbines. The cut-in speed is the wind speed at which the turbine blades begin to rotate to generate electricity.
One proven way to reduce bat fatalities is by raising cut-in speeds on the turbines, depending on factors that include the time of night and the season, Seymour said.
The permit also requires the wind company to monitor the number of bats injured and killed, and sets annual and five-year limits for the number of bats harmed. If the wind project exceeds of 5.2 bats per year, for example, it may have to increase the cut-in speed further to provide more protection for the bats.
If, on the other hand, the wind farm is consistently below its annual threshold, restrictions on how often it must monitor the situation could be loosened. For example, the wind farm may only have to monitor the situation every other year, as opposed to annually.
“The document itself is very strong and it addresses a lot of potential uncertainties,” Seymour said.
The permit covers both phases of the Buckeye Wind Project, and takes it one step closer to becoming a reality, said Mike Speerschneider, senior director for permitting for Everpower Renewables, the company in charge of the project.
It took more than three years to acquire the permit, Speerschneider said, but he said the agreement will help protect the bat and shows the wind company’s commitment to the local environment.
“We were, in a lot of ways, inventing the wheel,” Speerschneider said of the permit process.
The wind farm, once built, would include about 100 turbines spread throughout Champaign County. Proponents have said the second phase of the project alone could add as much as $55 million to the local economy and create between eight and 10 permanent full-time jobs once construction is complete.
Attorneys for Union Neighbors United, a group of residents opposed to the project, could not be reached for comment Friday. However, opponents have raised several concerns with the project, arguing that the turbines are set too close to homes within the wind farm’s footprint, and that the turbines could be a nuisance to neighbors who do not have a wind turbine on their property.
The Ohio Power Siting Board has approved the project, and is now being asked to review its decision. Opponents have said if the OPSB affirms its initial decision, they may appeal the case to the Ohio Supreme Court.
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