University of Maryland must insist wind developer partner will protect endangered species.

The following was sent this evening via email to University of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan

Subject:  University of Maryland – US WindForce Power Purchase Agreement

Dear Chancellor Kirwan,

Recently, US WindForce LLC touted the signing of a 20 year Power Purchase Agreement with the University of Maryland.  The notice published by US WindForce stated that, “under the terms of the agreements, the University of Maryland and the Department of General Services will purchase 33% and 67% respectively of the project’s output.

US WindForce happily announced the Power Purchase Agreement with this:  “US Wind Force has executed two 20-year Power Purchase Agreements for the energy, capacity and renewable attributes from its proposed Pinnacle Wind Farm, moving the $131 million project one giant step closer to construction.”  And, as David Friend of US WindForce said of your participation, “We appreciate the role they are playing in this project.

Perhaps my search was not adequate, but I was unable to find anything at the University web site which presented details of this action.  I have no reason to doubt that the agreement was made, however I had hoped that this might be one arrangement related to industrial wind development not shrouded in secrecy.

It is not my interest, or in fact my right to question the monetary arrangement.  As a resident of the community in which these turbines will be placed however, I feel it my right to question if your institution has or will insist that US WindForce serve as good stewards of the environment they plan to invade with their massive turbines.  The statements made by US WindForce accompanying their announcement certainly imply that the Agreement you signed has enabled them the opportunity to proceed with development of the Pinnacle wind project, so it seems reasonable to me that you share an interest in the results.

You see, based on the “role” the University is “playing in this project,” one must assume that US WindForce was forthcoming in the discussions leading to your investment that there might be environmental issues requiring attention.  One would assume, for example, they shared the US Fish and Wildlife Service letter (1) dated September 30, 2009 and the WV Department of Natural Resources letter(2) dated October 26, 2009.  (For your convenience, I provide links to each following this letter.)

Knowing the University takes pride in its environmental efforts, the USFWS letter must have caught your attention when it “identified several species and groups that may be impacted by the construction and operation of the Pinnacle wind power facility in a letter to Ms. Becky Braeutigam dated April 13, 2007. The letter noted that the Federally-listed endangered Indiana bat, the bald eagle, migratory birds (including bald and golden eagles), and unlisted migratory bats may be affected either directly or indirectly by activities associated with the construction and operation of the facility, including: behavioral effects, habitat removal and fragmentation, increased human activity, maintenance of rights-of-way and roads, and collisions with turbine blades, among others.

As you’re probably aware, the USFWS letter included “comments and recommendations pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) (16 U.S.C. 668 et seq.), and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) (16 U.S.C. 703 et seq.).

Similarly, the WV DNR letter notes that “In addition to the general bird and bat issues associated with wind facilities in West Virginia, there are other species of concern at the Pinnacle site. Species of concern to the WVDNR are the Allegheny woodrat, timber rattlesnake, bald eagle, golden eagle and spotted skunk. All these species are listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the State’s Wildlife Action Plan and all but the spotted skunk are Northeast Regional Species of Concern.” Further, “Data from raptor migration monitoring and golden eagle radio telemetry studies suggest the Pinnacle project is located along a significant migration corridor for eagles. Golden eagles may also frequent the site in winter as there are records from nearby NewCreek Mountain.”

During your presumed visit to the proposed site for which you are apparently obligating University funds, you would surely have noted that the terrain of the Allegheny Front on which the wind farm is planned, lends itself perfectly to such wildlife.  It is likely also that you would have sensed the danger the installation of 23 massive turbines would pose for these creatures.

Assuming all this leads me to ask if the University of Maryland can assure residents of the Allegheny Front that US WindForce will, or in fact, did complete the actions outlined in the US Fish and Wildlife Service letter and address the concerns raised by the WV DNR?

One would certainly believe that the University of Maryland would insure every safeguard be in place prior to committing University funds to enable the effort and, most certainly before the start of construction.  Perhaps that is the case, but having found nothing to convince me the issues raised by the USFWS and WV DNR have been fully acted upon, I cannot make that assumption.

As example, it would seem reasonable for the University to insist that US WindForce seek and obtain an Incidental Take Permit prior to construction.  As a reminder, “Incidental take permits are required when non-Federal activities will result in take of threatened or endangered species. A habitat conservation plan or “HCP” must accompany an application for an incidental take permit. The habitat conservation plan associated with the permit ensures that the effects of the authorized incidental take are adequately minimized and mitigated.”  The US Fish and Wildlife Service, in the same September 30, 2009 letter, makes note of just such potential for the proposed Pinnacle site in which you now play a “role.”

Again, you may have insisted in the agreement you signed with US WindForce that all actions requested by the USFWS be acted upon to the satisfaction of the Service up to and including securing an Incidental Take Permit, but I have no way of knowing.

You may, in fact, challenge my right to know.  As a resident of the impacted community however, I think it’s a fair question to ask.  You see, I have a stake in this area, as my family has had for generations.  Unlike the Pennsylvania wind farm developer working in partnership with a California electric company to develop a wind farm in my community which will send any and all electricity generated away from this area – the sale of which will benefit of the University of Maryland and the State of Maryland’s desire to meet a Maryland renewable energy goal … I actually live here!  The Allegheny Mountain ridge-line targeted in your agreement with US WindForce is my home.

And it seems to me that, by entering the Power Purchase Agreement with the wind farm developer, the University of Maryland shares responsibility with its “partner” to insure the critical habitat of the region is not destroyed and that the endangered species residing there are protected.  Protected, that is, beyond mere statements of intent to do so.

Further, if it was the position until now that the University was unaware of these environmental dangers and the commentary made by the USFWS and WV DNR to take appropriate action to protect wildlife, this letter serves as remedy.  Certainly now, it would seem less than honorable for the University to claim once-removed status in order to distance itself from the potential killing of endangered species or destruction of their habitat, especially when the agreement it expects to benefit from is claimed by the developer to have moved the project closer to construction.

I am, by no means, an expert in these matters.  I write to you as a private citizen with concerns about my community.  This region is however blessed with many learned individuals who understand the impact of industrial wind on the Allegheny Mountains.  These individuals, with no monetary stake in the outcome, have expressed very serious concerns about industrial wind and the environment.  If you have not consulted these individuals prior to making your decision, I would suggest you do so now.  For unless you fully understand the potential impact of your monetary commitment, it may be difficult to claim later you are surprised at the outcome.

It is my hope that the University of Maryland is insisting that its Agreement partner fully complies with the recommendations of the USFWS and addresses the concerns of the WV DNR in the effort to protect endangered species.  I cannot imagine that the University subscribes to the ridiculous notion that, in order to protect the environment, the environment must be sacrificed.

As many of the regions environmental experts contribute to, and read the Allegheny Treasures blog, I am taking the liberty to post this letter for their convenience.  I’m sure they would welcome your response, should you care to do so.

If my concerns are not justified and, in fact, already addressed by the actions of the University, it would be wonderful news for the members of the local community and environmentalists in the region.  I will happily post that information, as well.

Thank you very much for your time.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael C. Morgan

Keyser, WV 26726

——————————————————————————————————

(1) US Fish and Wildlife Service letter of September 30, 2009:

(2) WV Department of Natural Resources letter of October 26, 2009:

This entry was posted in Allegheny Mountains, Bat/Bird Kills, Environment, Pinnacle Wind Farm, US Fish &Wildlife and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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