Monday, December 14, 2009

Court cites Endangered Species Act, puts limits on wind project

A US District Court for the District of Maryland found a partially constructed wind project to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the ruling, wind farm developer Invenergy of Chicago can finish construction of the wind turbines already under construction. The turbines only can be operated during winter months when bats are hiberating.

The decision stemmed from expert testimony saying that the Beech Ridge Project on an Appalachian ridge in Greenbriar County, W. Vir., would kill and injure endangered Indiana bats.

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) said the case highlights the need to balance the construction of renewable energy along with protecting endangered wildlife species under the ESA. AWI filed the suit along with Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy and caving enthusiast Dave Cowan.

The ESA provides for the issuance of permits that authorize projects in endangered species habitat but only when the US Fish and Wildlife Service attaches strict, enforceable conditions designed to minimize the impact on imperiled species.

In finding a violation of the ESA, the court held that defendants must apply for a permit under the ESA.

Bat biologist Thomas Kunz of Boston University testified that the project would not only kill endangered Indiana bats, but might kill more than 250,000 bats overall, including species already being decimated by threats such as the devastating fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome.

The court enjoined the construction of the any additional wind turbines and prohibited operation of all existing turbines during Apr. 1 through Nov. 15 until an Incidental Take Permit is obtained. About 40 of the 122 planned wind turbines have been erected.

"We do not oppose responsible development of renewable energy projects be they wind farms, solar farms, or tidal energy projects but there must be independent federal regulation of these project to avoid unintentional consequences to protected species," said John Stroud, spokesman for Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy.

Cowan has explored many caves in the area. He said, "This court has made clear to Beech Ridge and its parent company, Invenergy, that the ESA has teeth, that the Indiana bat will be harmed by this project, and that these companies don't get a free pass to violate the ESA."

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