- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) last week designated the Northern long-eared bat as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, due to the devastation of some populations from White-Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease. The decision was closely watched by rural electric co-ops and wind developers, as they worried new regulations could affect their ability to site new projects.
- The designation includes an interim special ruling that allows for maintenance of transmission systems, including tree management and removal, in expanded rights of way along established corridors. Incidental take permits are not required for work involving grid safety or reliability if it is conducted according to conservation criteria.
- The ruling may impact wind projects near bat habitats because some bat deaths, though far fewer than from the virus, have been caused when bats fly close to, or into, spinning turbine blades. Curtailing production during high bat activity periods and suffering the associated revenue losses is one of the few successful mitigations.
Northern long-eared bats are indigenous to the eastern U.S. and important to farmers' insect control. White-Nose Syndrome invades the bats’ skin. Regional populations of infected bats fly out of hibernation caves in late winter and become exhausted and dehydrated searching for insects not yet hatched.
Between 40 and 50 bats have been documented as killed at wind projects, according to FWS, though there are likely more that have not been documented. But a 2007 to 2011 survey in Pennsylvania documented only 3 takes, less than 1% of all bat fatalities.
The American Wind Energy Association objects to the FWS ruling as it applies to wind projects because of the minor population-level impact. No specific measures are required of wind developers but threatened species takes are not allowed beyond a permitted number.
To protect the endangered Indiana bat, wind developers agreed to adjust turbine blades' spinning nightly during the August 1 through Oct. 15 migration and to protect summer maternity habitats