Windmills and Endangered Species
Updated: Sep 16, 2020
The “best available science” in 2011 indicated that the Kawailoa Wind Project would take no more than 60 endangered opeapea (Hawaiian Hoary Bat) over the 20-year life of the project. Within six years, the official take of opeapea was 69. Similar results are occurring around the state at other wind farms.
“Take” means to harass harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound kill, trap, capture, or collect any endangered or threatened species. State and federal laws prohibit take of endangered and threatened species unless certain conditions are met.
An Environmental Impact Statement and Habitat Conservation Plan are required for consideration of an Incidental Take License. Approved ITLs allow a limited number of take, provided the take is incidental to operations, rather than purposeful, and provided an approved plan is implemented to minimize and mitigate the take.
State and federal laws diverge on one key aspect regarding endangered species protections. The feds require a determination that take will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species. Hawaii law requires that minimization and mitigation measures be implemented to the maximum extent practicable, in order to improve the chances of survival of the species.
How then, is it possible that Kawailoa Wind and other wind developers in Hawaii continue operating after exceeding their allowable take? Government agencies allow them to continue to operate because they are in the process of amending their HCPs and ITLs.
Common sense might suggest the wind project should stop nighttime operations, when opeapea are vulnerable, until a new, approved plan is established. Kawailoa Wind’s claim they cannot afford to shut down at night is dubious because the current owners bought the project for pennies on the dollar through bankruptcy, yet sell electricity at the original, high priced purchase agreement.
Kawailoa Wind made news several months ago for its contribution to a land purchase in Helemano. They provided money as mitigation for the level of take they are now realizing in proposed Take Tier 4. The wind farm that projected they would not exceed 60 opeapea through three tiers of mitigation measures, now wants a license to take 265 opeapea in six tiers.
Nobody knows how many opeapea remain on Oahu, yet the wind farms continue to operate with minimal restrictions. Worse, they cannot demonstrate that their mitigation efforts have increased the population by a single bat – not one! The proposed plan basically comes down to a request for a new take license that conveniently matches the existing level of take.
Kawailoa Wind’s 30 turbines can potentially generate 69 MW of electricity; however, the average production is only 22 percent of capacity. The cost of electricity to rate payers is high, the electric output is disappointing, endangered species may not be adequately protected, and there is a prominent visual impact. All of these factors should be considered as we work towards a better tomorrow.
Public comments on the proposed EIS and HCP are encouraged for the Federal and State agencies by June 10 and June 24, respectively. Please visit SenatorRiviere.com/wind-turbines for additional information, links to the agency sites and a recap of related news articles.