Wind farm seeks OK to ‘take’ more endangered bats

Auwahi Wind wants to increase permitted bat fatalities from 21 to 197 over 25 years

With the number of bat deaths rising faster than expected at its Ulupalakua wind farm, Auwahi Wind Energy is seeking government permission for the “taking” of more endangered Hawaiian hoary bats.

A proposed amendment calls for increasing Auwahi’s take (a term meaning incidental fatalities of endangered species) from 21 to 197 through the end of the 25-year permit in February 2037.

The state Department of Natural Resources has determined that a supplemental environmental impact statement is needed, according to a memorandum prepared by Tetra Tech, a consultant to the wind farm located on Ulupalakua Ranch land.

The request for a take revision comes after an October 2016 DLNR report to the state Legislature on the status of permits for incidental takes of endangered and endangered species. That report showed Hawaii’s five major wind farms already had reached 146 of the 180 permitted bat fatalities as of the end of June 2016. That was barely five years after they had received permits of 20 years or more.

Auwahi Wind Energy is operated by Sempra U.S. Gas & Power. The Ulupalakua site has eight wind turbines generating as much as 21 megawatts per day.

The 2016 DLNR report to the Legislature reports the Auwahi site had a “total adjusted take” of 23 Hawaiian hoary bats as of June 30, 2016. That would appear to be two more than the 21 allowed by the current permit.

Auwahi Wind reported there have been 18 observed bat fatalities since the wind farm began operations in early 2013. The figure 23 from the DLNR report represents the high end of the range of estimated bat take as of the end of June 2016, according to the company.

Sempra Energy spokeswoman Lisa Briggs said that Auwahi is required to report Hawaiian hoary bat takes based upon an agreed-upon statistical model that produces a probable range of estimated take.

“As of June 30, 2016, that range was seven to 23 (bat fatalities) for Auwahi,” she said. “The (regulating) agencies determine compliance with the permit.”

DLNR officials did not comment on Auwahi’s permit compliance.

Briggs said that, since March 2015, Auwahi Wind has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the DLNR Division of Fish and Wildlife to amend its approved habitat conservation plan.

“The amendment proposes a tiered increase for the incidental taking of hoary bats authorized for the project, puts the cap at 197 bats and proposes additional and new mitigation measures for the remaining term of the permit.”

The company is pleased the process is advancing, and it’s looking forward to having the proposed amendment considered for approval next year, Briggs said.

“Auwahi Wind continues to use best-management practices when operating its wind facilities and in 2015 began implementing voluntary year-round, low-wind-speed curtailment from one hour before dusk to one hour after dawn that has been shown to help reduce bat fatalities at other farms on the Mainland,” she said. “We have implemented all of the bat mitigation proposed in our original (habitat conservation plan); restoring 130 acres of pastureland to native forest and funding bat researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct a four-year project to understand the diet, foraging patterns and activity of the bat surrounding our restoration area.”

There have been no reported nene fatalities at Auwahi, Briggs said.

Late last month, a public hearing aired concerns about a proposal to permit Kaheawa Wind Power II to increase its incidental bat take above Maalaea from 11 to 62 adults and nene fatalities from 30 to 48 adults over the next 15 years.

Critics of the proposal argued that the amount of allowable fatalities should not be increased until there’s a thorough scientific survey of the island’s bat population that provides a better estimate of the true population of the endangered species.

The public comment period for the Kaheawa Wind proposal ended Dec. 7.

The Auwahi Wind request for a permit amendment is at an earlier stage in the government review process.

A supplemental environmental impact statement preparation notice was published in the Dec. 8 edition of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control’s “Environmental Notice.” To view, go to: oeqc2.doh.hawaii.gov/_layouts/15/start.aspx#/The_Environmental_Notice/Forms/AllItems.aspx.

The deadline for agency and public comment is Jan. 8.

Send written comments to: (via email) Katherine.Cullison@hawaii.gov (include Auwahi Wind EISPN in the subject line) or (via mail) Attention: Auwahi Wind EISPN; Department of Land and Natural Resources / Division of Forestry and Wildlife; 1151 Punchbowl St., No. 325; Honolulu 96813. Comments also may be sent to the project consultant, (via email) to Brita.Woeck@tetratech.com) or (via mail) to Attention: Auwahi Wind EISPN; Tetra Tech Inc.; 737 Bishop St., Suite 2340, Mauka Tower; Honolulu 96813.

The Hawaiian hoary bat, or ‘ope’ape’a, is Hawaii’s only native land mammal, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Little research has been done on the bat’s habitat and population, the agency noted.

The bat is nocturnal. It has a brown-and-gray coat and white-tinged ears. It preys on insects and is believed to roost among trees in areas near forests. In October 1970, the bat was listed as a federally endangered species.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.


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