Wind farm allowed to increase incidental bat deaths

WAILUKU, Maui — State and federal agencies approved an energy company’s request to increase the number of allowed incidental bat deaths at its Maui wind farm.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources accepted Auwahi Wind Energy’s request to increase the number of allowed hoary bat deaths to 140 by 2037.

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Auwahi Wind Energy submitted the amendments to the incidental take license and habitat conservation plan to federal and state agencies. The number is up from the 21 bats in its original permit received in 2012.

The DLNR accepted the final environmental impact statement. However, the federal decision must be published in the Federal Register to be made final.

Auwahi was one of four Hawaii wind energy projects that applied for a federal permit, officials said. Its request was prepared and signed Sept. 3.

The federal agency is expected to issue separate final decisions on each of the four requests through publication in the Federal Register, but the decisions have yet to be published.

The risk that the wind turbines pose to bats in Hawaii “was largely unknown and underestimated,” Auwahi said in its original application. There is not enough information to determine the impact wind farms have on bat populations overall, experts confirmed.

“We will certainly keep an eye on actual bat take numbers and oppose any additional increase in allowed take since there are known operational changes that would reduce the take to zero or close to it,” said Rob Weltman, president of the Sierra Club Maui Group.

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Auwahi experimented with changing turbine speeds, and fewer deaths at certain speeds were reported, Sierra Club officials said.

Auwahi has worked to reforest bat habitat on Maui, sponsored U.S. Geological Survey bat research, conducted predator control and petrel burrow monitoring and funded bat pens in the national park, the company said.

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