Wind farms killing more bats than ex­pected

A state re­port to the new Leg­is­la­ture quan­ti­fies harm to en­dan­gered species by the isles’ma­jor wind sites

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Kathryn Myk­le­seth kmyk­le­seth@starad­ver­tiser.com

Hawaii’s five ma­jor wind farms are killing en­dan­gered Hawai­ian hoary bats at a much faster pace than ex­pected.

The wind farms have killed 146 Hawai­ian hoary bats out of the 187 they are al­lowed. They’ve killed that many in 6.4 years while they were ex­pected not to reach the to­tal for 20 years or more.

The wind farms have also killed at least 50 nene — the en­dan­gered Hawai­ian goose and state bird

— and 26 pe­trels, an en­dan­gered seabird.

The state Depart­ment of Land and Nat­u­ral

Re­sources Divi­sion of Forestry and Wildlife listed the num­bers of bats and birds harmed in a re­port to the 2017 state Leg­is­la­ture, which be­gins ses­sion Wed­nes­day.

The re­port raises the ques­tion of how to

bal­ance pro­tec­tion of en­dan­gered species with the state’s goal of pro­duc­ing more elec­tric­ity from re­new­able sources and cut­ting Hawaii’s de­pen­dence on im­ported fos­sil fu­els.

“I be­lieve none of it should hap­pen,” said Mar­garet Phri­ma­cio, a res­i­dent of Kahuku, where one of the wind farms is lo­cated. Phri­ma­cio said she sup­ports re­new­able en­ergy but prefers rooftop so­lar. “The idea is not to harm any fur­ther wildlife.”

Ted Peck, for­mer state en­ergy ad­min­is­tra­tor, said so­lar and wind are key for the state to reach its goal of 100 per­cent re­new­able elec­tric power by 2045.

“If peo­ple in Hawaii are con­cerned about (birds), deal­ing with the feral cat is­sues is our first choice of fo­cus,” he said. “Ev­ery year across the U.S., 250 to 750 birds are killed by wind­mills. Ev­ery year, 50 mil­lion are killed by (fly­ing into) build­ings. Ev­ery year, a bil­lion birds are killed by cats.”

Kate Culli­son of the Divi­sion of Forestry and Wildlife said, “With re­gard to bats, we have a lot to learn about the species. There is con­cern about the in­creased take lev­els … there­fore, many of the wind farms are pre­par­ing to fund re­search that will help us un­der­stand more about the bat pop­u­la­tions and habi­tat use, which will en­able the state to im­prove man­age­ment and per­mit de­ci­sions.”

State Sen. Gil Riviere

(D, Heeia-Laie-Wa­ialua) will pro­pose leg­is­la­tion based on the DLNR re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tion to in­crease staff statewide at the Divi­sion of Forestry and Wildlife to help mon­i­tor and track statewide habi­tat con­ser­va­tion plans and fund a re­port look­ing into the ef­fects of the state-pro­vided take li­censes, said Maxx Phillips, Riviere’s pol­icy ad­viser.

“Our of­fice’s stance is ‘At what cost?’” Phillips said. “How can we be sure that this (wind power) isn’t a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive than hy­dro­gen or so­lar, or a va­ri­ety of other al­ter­na­tives that could be avail­able. … Many in our com­mu­nity through­out the dis­trict have in­creased con­cerns re­lated to wind en­ergy.”

The num­ber of killed en­dan­gered an­i­mals is likely to grow as more wind farms are built to help the state reach its re­new­able-en­ergy goals.

Hawai­ian Elec­tric Co. plans to add roughly 157 megawatts of wind power across the state over the next five years. Ear­lier this month HECO put out a call seek­ing de­vel­op­ers who are ca­pa­ble of build­ing wind projects on Oahu be­fore a fed­eral tax credit for wind power ex­pires in 2019.

Marti Townsend, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said, “This is ul­ti­mately about re­mak­ing our en­ergy sys­tem into some­thing truly sus­tain­able, not just swap­ping out fos­sil fu­els and con­tin­u­ing the same short­sighted de­ci­sion-mak­ing that turned us into the en­dan­gered species cap­i­tal of the world.”

The Ka­heawa Wind

Power farm on Maui, owned by SunEdi­son Inc., has 20 wind tur­bines to­tal­ing 30 megawatts. As of June some 34 Hawai­ian hoary bats had been killed or in­jured, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates. The 10-year-old fa­cil­ity is al­lowed to kill 50 Hawai­ian hoary bats over 20 years.

THE NUM­BER of killed or in­jured bats is es­ti­mated based on a model pro­vided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, which in­cludes a count of dead bats found and an es­ti­mate, based on the body count, of how many may have died but not been found.

To help pro­tect the en­dan­gered birds, SunEdi­son has set up mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts in­clud­ing preda­tor pro­tec­tion with fenced en­clo­sures at Maka­makaole in West Maui. Ka­heawa set aside $139,775 for habi­tat con­ser­va­tion plans.

Ka­heawa Wind Power II on Maui, also owned by SunEdi­son Inc., set aside $400,000 for con­ser­va­tion plans. The plans in­clude build­ing preda­tor con­trol traps, which are planned to be built in fis­cal year 2017.

Ka­heawa Wind Power II is im­prov­ing 338 acres of land for its con­ser­va­tion plan for Hawai­ian hoary bats. The area is set to be mon­i­tored for hoofed an­i­mals and veg­e­ta­tion that could pose a threat to the bat’s habi­tat.

With money from Ka­heawa Wind II, the Divi­sion of Forestry and Wildlife in­stalled ap­prox­i­mately

2.8 miles of fence in July 2014 to pro­tect a por­tion of the Nakula Nat­u­ral Area Re­serve and the Kahik­inui For­est Re­serve. Since Oc­to­ber 2014, 688 feral goats and 18 feral pigs have been sent away from the area. The state Divi­sion of Forestry con­tin­ues to in­spect and main­tain the fence.

Kahuku Wind Power on Oahu’s North Shore, also owned by SunEdi­son, paid the state Divi­sion of Forestry and Wildlife $150,000 to fund mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts. The funds were pooled with other funds to build a fence to pre­vent hoofed an­i­mals from en­ter­ing a 280-acre sec­tion of the Kahik­inui For­est Re­serve and Nakula Nat­u­ral Area Re­serve.

The Kahuku fa­cil­ity also cur­tails tur­bine wind speed be­tween sun­set and sun­rise from April through Novem­ber for avoid­ance mea­sures. The Kahuku fa­cil­ity has set aside $320,534 for habi­tat con­ser­va­tion.

SunEdi­son, which filed for Chap­ter 11 bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion last year, did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ments.

Kawailoa Wind, owned by D.E. Shaw Re­new­able In­vest­ments, on Oahu’s North Shore is es­ti­mated to have killed 54 Hawai­ian hoary bats. The wind fa­cil­ity is about five years into the 20year life of the project. The fa­cil­ity is al­lowed to kill 60 bats over its life.

Kawailoa Wind is pay­ing for veg­e­ta­tion man­age­ment at Ukoa wet­land, which is set to be­gin this year. Kawailoa has set aside $43,070 for mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies.

D.E. Shaw did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ments.

Phillips in Sen. Riviere’s of­fice said that the mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies for some of the species, in par­tic­u­lar the hoary bat, are not enough be­cause the pop­u­la­tion base line of the state mam­mal is un­known.

“We don’t think the mit­i­ga­tion mea­sure and adap­tive mea­sure­ments have met the stan­dards of the law,” Phillips said. “Specif­i­cally with the Hawai­ian hoary bat, we don’t re­ally know how many bats there are. … Even at those num­bers, if it’s only a cou­ple hun­dred and if they are killing over 50 bats, that is a huge im­pact to the species’ base line.”

MARTHA HER­NAN­DEZ / MHERNANDEZ@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

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