Holy Gargantuan Chiroptera Killers, Batman!

February 22, 2013 | Roger McEowen

It’s been a rough few weeks for proponents of commercial wind farming.  In September 2009, a major technical publication written by a European scientist entitled, “The Wind Farm Scam” was published which makes many points based in science, engineering, physics and mathematics to reach the conclusion that wind farms are in reality nothing more than the outgrowth of politics and favorable tax subsidies that support the industry.  Then, in October, the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously upheld a county’s ban on commercial wind farm development, citing numerous adverse effects of commercial wind farms including damage to the local ecology, the unsightly nature of large wind turbines, and the negative impact that wind farms have on property values and agricultural and nature-based tourism.  In late November, “Climategate” became public – e-mails at Britain’s University of East Anglia were disclosed showing that the supposedly “scientific” data supporting the “global warming” theory (wind farming is promoted as reducing carbon emissions and, thus, reducing “global warming”) was cooked to produce the results that the proponents of the “global warming” theory wanted.  Now, a Federal Court has put a halt to a commercial wind farm project in West Virginia because large-scale wind turbines would kill an estimated 6,746 Indiana bats – a protected species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The bat case was filed in June 2009 by several groups that claimed a $300 million, 122-turbine wind farm development in West Virginia violated the ESA by proceeding without an incidental take permit.  The case is the first in the U.S. to challenge the wind farming industry under the ESA.  The court noted that the wind energy company involved (Beech Ridge Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Invenergy (headquartered in Chicago) whose founder has a personal wealth of approximately $300-$400 million (prior to his divorce settlement in 2007) and is politically involved at the Chicago and national level), repeatedly ignored the advice of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as it developed the project and failed to take into account hundreds of Indiana bats that were hibernating within migratory range of the wind farm.  The court said it was a “virtual certainty” that Indiana bats would be “harmed, wounded or killed” by the wind farm in violation of the ESA during times that they were not hibernating.  But, the wind energy company developing the project ignored USFWS letters which suggested that the company conduct more rigorous environmental analysis of the project.  Thus, the court concluded that injunctive relief was appropriate, effectively stopping the project mid-stream (40 turbines were already under construction) and specifying that the existing turbines could only operate during the hibernation period of the bats (Nov. 16 – Mar. 31).  The injunction stays in place until the company gets an incidental take permit under the ESA from the USFWS. Animal Welfare Institute, et al. v. Beech Ridge Energy LLC, et al., No. RWT 009cv1519, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114267 (D. Md. Dec. 8, 2009).

Update:  In early 2010, the court approved an agreement between the defendant's local affiliate and the plaintiff which allows the wind power station development project to proceed, albeit with significant restrictions - while the company applies for an incidental take permit.  The agreement allows the company to operate up to 67 aerogenerators immediately, with a potential to operate a total of 100 aerogenerators (down from the planned 120).  When the endangered bats are not hibernating (April 1 to November 15), the aerogenerators will only be allowed to operate during daylight hours.  The agreement ends the litigation between the parties.