SunEdison, owner of the Kaheawa Wind Projects I and II above Maalaea, is asking the state for permission to increase the number of Hawaiian hoary bats and nene that may be accidentally killed by its wind turbines.
SunEdison met with the state Endangered Species Recovery Committee on Oahu on Tuesday to solicit comments on a draft of proposed amendments to the renewable energy developer’s Habitat Conservation Plan. The Missouri-based company is seeking to increase to 80 the number of Hawaiian hoary bats that may be killed over the 20-year lifetime of KWP II, a 14-turbine wind farm that came online in 2012. It currently has a limit of 14 bat deaths.
In the last three years, three hoary bat fatalities have been found and recorded at KWP II, though conservationists estimate the actual number of bats killed at the project could be as many as 18.
Those numbers are significantly higher than SunEdison had predicted when it developed the habitat conservation plan for the first phase of the Kaheawa project in 2006.
“At the time, very little was known about the Hawaiian hoary bat. . . . No Hawaiian hoary bats were recorded in the area of the proposed wind turbines during studies conducted in the summer 1999 or fall 2004,” company spokeswoman Crystal Kua said in an email. Experts at the time had expected no more than one bat per year would be killed.
“However, it is now known that this species is present in the KWP II project area at any time of year, either foraging or in transit, although it probably occurs infrequently and in very low numbers,” Kua said.
In exchange for permission to be allowed more bat deaths at the project site, SunEdison intends to invest about $3.45 million in future mitigation efforts to protect the bats and other endangered species that could be negatively impacted by the project.
SunEdison has proposed to restore 1,600 acres of native bat habitat in West Maui owned by Makila Land Co. and the state. The company would install ungulate fencing and initiate ungulate control, fire-fuel management, long-term maintenance and monitoring, native tree outplanting, native plant seed dispersal, invasive species control and bat monitoring. Bat monitoring would include deployment of at least 10 bat detectors within the habitat from July through September in the first year as a baseline and then at least every fifth year after that, according to the draft amendment request.
As part of its conservation plan, SunEdison is required by law to provide a “net benefit” for any endangered species that are negatively affected by its project.
The company also is asking to increase the number of nene, or Hawaiian geese, that may inadvertently die at KWP II in the next 17 years. The current limit is 30, but SunEdison hopes to increase the take to 48.
Scott Fretz, acting administrator of the state Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife, said that the department has not taken a position on the matter yet, but amending habitat conservation plans is “not uncommon.”
“Information is being gained as we work our way through these (plans),” he said. “We had no prior experience with wind farms in Hawaii of that size and magnitude before, we didn’t know what impacts there’d be, so . . . now we’ve learned the take of bats striking these turbines is higher than was expected, so they (wind developers) need to come back and amend their license.”
Fretz guessed that owners of other wind farms in the state might be coming to the commission to amend their federal incidental take permits and state incidental take licenses.
“This may be the first of several,” Fretz said of SunEdison’s amendment request.
Fretz added that, contrary to what was printed in an article in Wednesday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the committee has not made any recommendation on SunEdison’s request. During the Tuesday meeting that lasted nearly seven hours, committee members offered comments on a draft proposal but did not make any formal recommendation.
Comprised of members from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy, the University of Hawaii and the U.S. Geological Survey, the committee serves as an advisory board to the Board of Land and Natural Resources, which will have final approval over the amendments.
Fretz said no decision would be made until the public has a chance to comment on the proposal. While unable to provide a timeline, Fretz said that the public would have at least four chances to comment – in the 60-day comment period after the request is published in the state Office of Environmental Quality Control bulletin; during a DLNR public meeting that will be held on Maui; during a follow-up Endangered Species Recovery Committee meeting, during which a recommendation will be made; and during the BLNR meeting.
To read the conservation plan, go to dlnr.hawaii.gov/wildlife/esrc.
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