Thursday, October 22, 2009

West Virginia wind farm pits environmentalists against each other

Environmental groups in West Virginia have a new foe in their quest for renewable energy: other environmentalists. In a rare green-versus-green battle, environmental groups are challenging a proposed wind power plant under the Endangered Species Act for the first time, saying that the Beech Ridge wind farm in Greenbrier County poses a threat to endangered Indiana bats. A 2005 estimate placed the bats' population at 457,000, down 50 percent from when it the species was added to the endangered list in 1967, Maria Gold of The Washington Post reports. A colony lives within miles of the Beech Ridge site, but scientists are divided on the bats' use of the ridge. (Post graphic by Gene Thorp)

"Any kind of energy development is going to have environmental impacts that are going to concern somebody," John D. Echeverria, a Vermont Law School professor who specializes in environmental law, told Gold. "This has been an issue for the environmental community. They are enthusiastic; at the same time, they realize there are these adverse impacts." Chicago-based Invenergy, which owns the Beech Ridge farm, says there is no evidence the Indiana bat even visits the ridge, but does admit that the turbines will kill more than 130,000 other bats in the next 20 years. An attorney for the plaintiffs says Invenegry is content to roll the dice and see what effect the turbines have on the Indiana bat, which is not the intent of the Endangered Species Act.

Many of the plaintiffs support wind energy as a way to mitigate climate change, Gold reports, but maintain this setting is the wrong one. In an area with surface coal mining nearby, Invenergy officials say their wind project is a friend to the environment. Clifford J. Zatz, a lawyer representing the wind farm, said in court: "A $300 million, environmentally friendly, clean, renewable energy project waiting to serve 50,000 households is in limbo over a rare bat nobody has ever seen on the project site." The project has twice previously survived challenges in the West Virginia Supreme Court, including one that said it would mar the picturesque view. (Read more)

As the West Virginia wind battle plays out in court, the American Wind Energy Association said Tuesday that the industry will fall short of growth projections for the year. The recession has caused many companies to put projects on hold, Julie Schmidt of USA Today reports. While the $950 million in cash grants from the stimulus act has helped bring some of the projects back to life, it hasn't revitalized them all. The U.S. currently has enough wind power to fuel nearly 9 million homes, up 23 percent from 2008. (Read more)

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