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Hearing Friday on bat deaths at wind farm

A hearing on Auwahi Wind Farm’s plans to increase the limit on incidental deaths of the endangered Hawaiian hoary bats in its turbines from 21 to 140 through 2032 will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at Kula Elementary School.

The limits in the original Habitat Conservation Plan, approved Feb. 9, 2012, have been reached, based on model estimates, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources news release said.

The 21-megawatt wind farm, with eight turbines and an 11-MW battery storage system, are causing greater bat fatalities than anticipated. In conjunction with the amendment, Auwahi would implement avoidance, mitigation and monitoring.

One measure is spinning the turbines more slowly, which is reducing bat deaths, Auwahi’s operator Sempra Energy told The Maui News in December.

Other mitigation measures would include protecting, managing and enhancing habitat that is suitable for bat foraging and roosting. The wind farm became operational in December 2012 on Ulupalakua Ranch land on the southeastern flank of Haleakala.

The Hawaiian hoary bat, known in Hawaiian as ‘ope’ape’a, is Hawaii’s only native land mammal, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Little research has been done on the bat’s habitat and population.

The nocturnal bat has a brown-and-gray coat and white-tinged ears. It preys on insects and is believed to roost among trees in areas near forests. In October 1970, the bat was listed as a federally endangered species.

Underestimating the taking of the bat has been a problem for all Hawaii wind farms. In October 2016, a DLNR report to the state Legislature on the status of permits for incidental takes of endangered species showed that the state’s five major wind farms already had reached 146 of the 180 permitted bat fatalities as of the end of June 2016. That was barely five years after they had received permits of 20 years or more.

Copies of the draft plan amendment are available for review at the Division of Forestry and Wildlife office in Honolulu and at oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/Other_TEN_Publications/2018-12-08-MA-DHCP-Amendment-Auwahi-Wind.pdf. A review copy also will be available at the public hearing.

Those requiring hearing auxiliary aids, such as taped materials or a sign language interpreter, should contact the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 325, Honolulu 96813 or call (808) 587-0166.

Those unable to attend the hearing may send comments by Feb. 21 to Glenn Metzler at the forestry division mailing address or by email to glenn.m.metzler@hawaii.gov.