News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Another Endangered Species Kill Permit Issued to Make Way for Wind Energy

Hibernating Indiana bats | Photo: USFWS

Last month a California wind turbine operator wanting to build a facility in the Mojave Desert became the received legal permission to kill an endangered species -- in that company's case, a California condor. Now, another wind company has gotten similar permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: in this case, allowing the company to kill up to 130 Endangered Indiana bats over the life of the project.

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The 125-megawatt Buckeye Wind Project, west of Columbus in central Ohio, received an Incidental Take Permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service last week allowing the facility's wind turbines to injure or kill an average of about five bats per year.

According to an article in the local paper the Springfield News Sun, wind turbine proponents Everpower Wind Holdings have been in negotiations with FWS since 2008 over the facility's likely effect on the endangered bat, which is in trouble mainly due to loss of its preferred eastern riverbottom hardwood forest habitat.

The Indiana bat, listed by the Feds as an Endangered Species since 1967, is also under threat from recreational cavers, pesticide contamination in its insect food base, and the epidemic of White-Nose syndrome now devastating Eastern bat populations.

Bats are thought to be especially sensitive to injury from wind turbines not only because of direct collisions with spinning blades, but also due to the rapid changes in air pressure that the blades cause as they spin. That's due to a syndrome called "barotrauma," in which bats' lungs rupture and hemorrhage after air pressure drops suddenly. As part of the agreement with FWS, the Buckeye Wind Project's operators must raise their turbines' "cut-in speeds" -- the wind speed at which the turbines begin to produce power -- during seasons when bats are active. There's some indication, though much more research needs to be done, that raising cut-in speeds can reduce mortality for some species of bats by between 50 and 83 percent. That's likely because bats are less active during periods of stronger winds.

Buckeye's owners must also preserve some 217 acres of nearby bat habitat. If the detected death toll for Indiana bats over the first few years is lower than anticipated, FWS may allow the restrictions to be loosened somewhat.

This isn't the first wind facility to run into obstacles related to Indiana bats: a 2009 ruling stopped construction on a West Virginia wind facility that would have harmed Indiana bats as well. That project's owners, Beech Ridge Energy LLC, have since applied for Incidental Take Permits for both Indiana and Virginia big eared bats.


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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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The wind industry has virtually no regulations or FWS oversight. These latest incidental permits are just more proof of a decades old pattern exhibited by the FWS of posturing for the public and not getting in the way of this greedy industry. As it is there are many ways around these permits but the bottom line is that this project will go in and lies will keep it running. The allowed take of 5.2 of these endangered bats per year could end up being 5000 because of the way the industry is set up. Altamont has reported less than a hundred dead bats in 30 years of service but thousands have been killed there.

The fact is that this endangered bat, whopping cranes, condors, golden eagles, bald eagles or any other species means very little to this industry. Otherwise they would not have use gag orders to silence people (witnesses) or be rigging studies to cover up mortality and cumulative impacts. We would also have an accurate population count for the declining whooping cranes. But then again this would mean more lies and posturing for the FWS or they would actually have to do something about these damn turbines.

Everyone should take a close look at the Shepherds Flat wind project in Oregon from Google earth. The developers took virtually the only available wildlife habitat left in the region and stuffed it with deadly rotor sweep. In a pocket of land surrounded by intense farming they put in about 25 million square feet of rotor sweep. Now this habitat has become a mortality trap with a several thousand mile footprint for local and migratory species. What is taking place at Shepherds Flat is taking place in dwindling pockets of wildlife habitat all over the country.

Beside the high cost for a non solution to our energy needs, the worst part of all this wind business is that official bird kill estimates have been derived from studies rigged to hide mortality. The real number is at least 10 times that amount. Altamont Pass is reporting better than most at about 10-20%.

The industry has a basket full of tricks they use in their studies. Their biggest trick is to only look in small areas around their huge 400-500 foot turbines. Search areas smaller than the ones used on the tiny turbines at Altamont. Yet with these huge turbines, carcasses can be found hundreds of meters away after being smashed by 200 mph blade tips, but their studies primarily look around the bases of these turbines. Sadly if you are a wildlife biologist in this society, you are pretty much being paid to lie for corporations or Wildlife agencies.

Here is an interesting tidbit for wildlife biology students and Southern CA residents. Since the early 1980's I know of only one wind industry mortality report that was designed to tell the truth. It was written up in 1986 and conducted at the San Gorgonio wind farm in Southern CA by an ornithologist named McCrary. His study gave a mortality estimate of 6800 per year or about 35 birds per MW for the turbines running at that time. But even this estimate was low due to the search intervals used. Southern CA Edison paid for the study but good luck getting your hands on it because it has been buried. (McCrary, M.D., R.L. McKernan, and R.W. Schreiber. 1986. San Gorgonio wind resource area: impacts of commercial wind turbine generators on birds, 1985 data report. Prepared for Southern California Edison Company. 33 pp.)
One wind permit at a time we are facing the extinction of species from this industry and little is said or being done about it. It is my goal to educate a vast Army that will one day eradicate this terrible industry.