The New York Times’ Todd Woody reported in December that a federal judge’s ruling has stopped construction on a 119-turbine wind farm project in Greenbrier County, WV in an effort to protect the endangered Indiana bat population located near the project site. Judge Roger W. Titus described the situation saying, “This is a case about bats, wind turbines, and two federal polices, one favoring protection of endangered species and the other encouraging development of renewable energy resources.”
Indeed wind projects throughout the country face potential obstacles in the form of uncertainty over effects on habitat and migration patterns for bats and birds, though the West Virginia case is thought to be the first decision on the issue. The decision is unlikely to constitute a domino effect for other projects, provided the individual projects do not violate the provisions of the Endangered Species Act.
Many project developers are attempting to head off such controversy by partnering with conservation groups such as Bat Conservation International (BCI). BCI’s statement on wind energy, “We believe that minimizing harmful impacts to wildlife is an essential element of “green energy” and that developers of wind energy must substantially increase efforts to improve siting and develop and test methods to reduce harm to wildlife.”
Such efforts to improve siting are drawing on information gained from studying bats killed by existing projects to learn more about migration patterns and habitat range. A study conducted by the University of Calgary’s Erin Baerwald and Robert Barclay informed heavily by post-mortem examination of bats, since bats are notoriously challenging to study due to their elusive nature. The authors state: “Our results indicate that bats migrate in certain areas and that measuring migratory activity may allow wind energy facilities to be placed so as to minimize bat fatalities.”
Project developers and supporters of wind energy hope that this study and others like it will provide the necessary information to minimize damage to habitat and wildlife when siting turbines, thus reducing some of the concerns local citizens have over proposed wind farms. Whether such information is enough to amend and restart the Greenbrier County wind farm remains to be seen.