Constellation Energy wind farm may include condominium resort for Indiana and Virginia “big-eared” bats.

I couldn’t believe it either, but according to an article in the Cumberland (MD) Times-News, Constellation spokesman Larry McDonnell said of plans to install massive wind turbines on Backbone Mountain in Garrett County, “We will commit to developing Indiana bat habitat improvement projects that will result in far greater benefits to the species than any remote risk posed by the project.”  How cool is that?

The “remote risk posed by the project” is, of course, the possibility that the Indiana and Virginia big-eared bats inhabiting the area, also listed as endangered species under protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), will be whacked by the spinning propeller blades.  Constellation considers this a long shot, but renewed it’s commitment to seek an “incidental take permit” from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, just in case.

Opposition groups, such as the Garrett-based opposition group Save Western Maryland and the Maryland Conservation Council, which have threatened a law suit to insure all protections are provided prior to construction, point to statistics from two nearby wind “farm” installations which demonstrate the significant danger to bat populations.  “Opponents cited studies done at the Mountaineer wind farm, a 44-turbine facility in nearby West Virginia, and at a 20-turbine facility near Meyersdale, Pa. The studies showed significant bat mortality at both locations, including one six-week monitoring period when researchers found 398 bat carcasses at the Mountaineer wind farm and 262 at the Meyersdale site.”  In fact, if my memory serves, things got so bad at the Mountaineer wind farm project a few years ago that the owners tossed everyone off the “farm” because they were finding too many carcasses.  A carcass is what’s left after the animal’s life has been “taken.”  “Taken!”  Ahhh!, a much more agreeable term than kill, maim, destroy, whack, chop, slaughter etc., which is why, I suppose, they call it an “incidental take permit” instead of a “license to kill.”

I would like to take comfort in Constellation’s statement that, “Even though the risk of a negative impact to an Indiana bat is very remote, Constellation Energy will voluntarily seek the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval for any incidental impacts,” and that “Constellation’s bat protection measures have been and will continue to be very comprehensive,” but I keep going back to Jon Boone’s The Windpower Industry’s “top ten” false and misleading claims … Number 3 – Windplants are harmless to wildlife. Mr. Boone points out that, just a few years ago, when “Faced with the news that its wind turbines were killing thousands of bats at two windplants on Appalachian mountain ridgelines, Florida Power and Light, the owners of these windplants, reacted quickly. It barred scientists from pursuing follow-up work, pulled its $75,000 contribution from the research cooperative studying bat mortality and ended the doctoral work of a graduate student who had produced two years of data showing unusually high rates of bat death at the Pennsylvania and West Virginia sites. Although Florida Power and Light has pulled the plug on further research into avian and bat mortality on any of its properties, the company plans to construct hundreds more huge turbines in the mountainous areas.

But direct bird and bats kills from turbine collisions are not the only environmental threat. The montane forest fragmentation that would result from thousands of wind turbines will create hardship for a variety of wildlife and plants.

The scientific literature extensively documents concern for wildlife due to the harm such fragmentation will cause. Forest fragmentation has basically two components—the loss or reduction of habitat and the breaking of remaining habitat into smaller more isolated patches. Among the negative effects of fragmentation are:  the elimination of some species due to chance events; an increase in the isolation among species populations due to their lessened ability to move about the landscape; reductions in local population sizes sometimes leading to local extinctions; and often wholesale disruptions of ecological processes that jeopardize survival for many species.

I wonder if Mr. Boone approves of Constellation’s “condo” deal on Backbone Mountain?

Read Megan Miller’s excellent summary of the status of the Constellation project and potential law suit demanding they comply with USFWS requirements at this link:  Opponents of Garrett County wind farm threaten lawsuit.

For a greater understanding of the impact of industrial wind on the environment, please read:  A Conversation with Jon Boone – Industrial Wind and the Environment

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