Beech Ridge wind project seeks federal take permit

A West Virginia wind farm whose construction was temporarily halted mid-stream has applied to federal authorities for a permit that would allow a limited number of inadvertent deaths of endangered bats.

Beech Ridge Energy has applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for an incidental ‘take permit’ addressing impacts to endangered bats at the company’s 100-MW wind energy project in Greenbrier and Nicholas counties, West Virginia. The 25-year permit for the Beech Ridge Energy project would cover the Virginia big-eared and Indiana bats during operation of 67 existing turbines and construction of an additional 33 turbines.

The application for the incidental take permit is part of the court-approved settlement the developers reached with opponents of the facility.

Beech Ridge Energy and its parent, Invenergy LLC, were sued in 2009. A settlement was reached in early 2010. Construction was delayed for several months in 2009 and 2010, after 40 turbines were already erected, while the case was litigated.

The Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to “take,” meaning harm or kill, federally threatened or endangered wildlife. Some otherwise legal activities, such as wind turbine operation, have the risk of incidentally taking protected species. These activities can continue, as long as the project owner “undertakes reasonable and practical measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate” deaths of listed species.

“The Service will continue to work with wind companies like Beech Ridge Energy to plan operations that minimize impacts to wildlife,” said Deb Carter, supervisor for the Service’s West Virginia field office. “As the nation’s energy future unfolds, it’s important that we work together to meet the needs of people and protected animals and plants.”

According to the USFWS, the project currently operates year-round under conditions that are not likely to take endangered bats. These conditions apply while Beech Ridge Energy continues to work through the permit and conservation plan process.

The wind project can operates around-the-clock between mid-November and April 1 when the bats are hibernating. Turbines operate only during daylight hours the remaining of the year, when the bats are active.

The Service is seeking public comment on Beech Ridge Energy’s draft habitat conservation plan, a requirement for the permit, and the Service’s draft environmental impact statement, an assessment of the plan and alternatives to it. This is the third permit application in the U.S. for impacts to Indiana bats on wind projects. The Service will accept written comments on the draft documents through Oct. 23, 2012. After the comment period ends, the Service will determine if the application meets the permit issuance requirements.

Written comments may be submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal by searching for docket # FWS-R5-ES-2012-0059 at http://www.regulations.gov, or by hard copy via U.S. mail to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R5-ES-2012-0059, Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM, Arlington, VA 22203R.

In July, Invenergy announced completion of its 200-MW Bishop Hill Wind Energy facility in Henry County, Ill.