Since 2003, with the discovery of significant bat kills at the Mountaineer wind energy facility sited on a forested ridgeline in West Virginia, the wind industry has been battling the issue of how best to predict and site wind facilities to avoid, or minimize the problem. High bat mortality has since been reported at project sites worldwide, particularly involving migratory species, prompting concerns of cumulative effects on bat populations.
World renown bat expert, Dr. Thomas H. Kunz, and others, in their peer-reviewed paper entitled "Ecological impacts of wind energy development on bats", detailed the significant risk that industrial-scale wind turbines pose for migratory and local bat populations in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands region of the United States. The authors projected that by 2020, annual bat fatalities at wind energy facilities in this region alone could reach 111,000 bats. They also state that their preliminary projections of cumulative bat fatalities are "likely to be unrealistically low, especially as larger and increasing numbers of wind turbines are installed."
High bat mortality is not limited to the eastern region of the U.S. Drs. Kunz and Merlin Tuttle raised the red flag in Texas where limited or no studies are underway and researchers in Canada, where barotrauma was first identified, are also trying to quantify the problem. When the devastating bat-killing disease white-nose syndrome - which has now spread to much of the East Coast - is factored into the equation, it's easy to understand why leading bat experts are predicting truly dire consequences unless drastic changes are made in the way that wind power projects are sited and regulated.
With that background, we introduce the law suit filed by Animal Welfare Institute, Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, and others against Beech Ridge LLC.
At issue is whether the massive Beech Ridge project - consisting of over 120 industrial wind turbines spread out over 23 miles on multiple Appalachian ridges in Greenbrier County, West Virginia - will likely kill, wound, harm, harass, or otherwise "take" any federally endangered Indiana bats during the two decades that the turbines will operate. Discovery taken to date by the plaintiffs' attorneys reveals the scale of risk to bats as follows:
• that Defendants' own consultant - BHE Environmental ("BHE") - has predicted that more than 135,000 bats would be killed by the turbines, through a combination of direct impacts with the turbine blades and barotrauma;
• that such deaths will likely include other "myotis" species - the taxonomic group that includes Indiana bats - including such species that have been captured on the Beech Ridge site and that resemble the Indiana bat and share similar ecological characteristics;
• that other wind power projects built on Appalachian ridges - including the "Mountaineer" facility in West Virginia, which is close geographically to the Beech Ridge project - have had far higher rates of bat mortality than wind power projects located in other parts of the country, and that the available data reflect that Appalachian projects have killed higher percentages of myotis species than elsewhere in the country;
• that hundreds of Indiana bats presently hibernate in caves within ten miles of the project site - including some that are less than seven miles from turbine locations - and that there are no currently operating wind power projects closer to known Indiana bat hibernacula;
• that Indiana bats can and do migrate between summer roosting and foraging habitat much further than the distance between the hibernacula and the project site;
• that there is in fact "suitable" Indiana bat habitat on the project site itself, as confirmed by the parties' site inspection;
• that the 23 miles of Beech Ridge turbines will be physically located between known Indiana bat hibernacula to the south and east of the project and known Indiana summer foraging and roosting habitat to the west and north of the project;
• that Defendants performed no surveys whatsoever regarding Indiana bat - or, for that matter, any other bat - use of the site during the crucial Fall migration period although both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service ("FWS") and WV DNR sent BHE letters urging that such surveys be performed.
Despite these facts, the developer asserted that Indiana bats were unlikely to be killed, injured, or otherwise taken because Indiana bats have never been detected on the project site itself.
But, in fact, pre-trial investigations uncovered that several such surveys were completed in July 2005. The developer now admits a subcontractor collected "ultrasound" data and the acoustic data sat in a file cabinet unanalyzed. Two experts for the Plaintiffs, Drs. Lynn Robbins and Michael Gannon have analyzed these long-hidden files and have determined that Indiana bats were almost certainly present on the site during the survey.
The trial start date is set for Oct 21; Windaction.org will be watching these proceedings closely. This single project, if permitted to proceed, will pose an alarming risk to bats, including Indiana bats. But what sobers us most is that data involving the Indiana bat was never publicly revealed until a civil suit was filed and the right document requests made. There is no excuse for this cover-up by Beech Ridge LLC and its environmental consultant, BHE Environmental Inc., and they shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.