In a precedent setting decision, a federal court judge has issued a comprehensive ruling that an industrial wind energy farm in Greenbrier County, WV would kill and injure endangered Indiana bats in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Plaintiffs in the lawsuit were the Animal Welfare Institute, Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, and Dave Cowan, a caver and West Virginia resident.
In the first federal ruling involving a wind energy facility and the ESA, Judge Roger Titus encouraged the development of wind energy but said that “wind turbines must be good neighbors.” He ordered defendants Invenergy and Beech Ridge Energy to comply with the ESA by requesting an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Based on evidence which included testimony from some of the country’s leading bat experts, the court found that the proposed 127-turbine wind energy facility, spread over 23 miles of Appalachian mountain ridgelines, could kill more than a quarter million bats over the Beech Ridge project’s lifetime. Among these winged victims, the court concluded that “like death and taxes, there is a virtual certainty that Indiana bats will be harmed, wounded, or killed imminently by the Beech Ridge Project in violation of ... the ESA, during the spring, summer, and fall.”
Indiana bats are diminutive creatures under two inches in length and weighing a quarter of an ounce. They are insectivorous and migratory but spend their winters hibernating in caves. As such, the court will allow Beech Ridge to continue to operate 40 turbines, previously erected on-site, from November 16 to March 31, while the bats hibernate, pending issuance of an ITP. The permitting process is intended to minimize the impact of projects on imperiled species through the application of strict and enforceable conditions.
Neither AWI nor its co-plaintiffs oppose the development of renewable energy, but maintain that imperiled species must be protected in the process. Projects such as the Beech Ridge Energy wind facility must only go forward, as the court opined, “in harmony with the goal of avoidance of harm to endangered species.”