Incidental Take Permit and Habitat Conservation Plan forCriterion Power Partners LLC at the Criterion Wind Project
Questions and Answers
Habitat Conservation Plan and Incidental Take Permit
- Why does Criterion need a permit under the Endangered Species Act?
Criterion needs a permit to address the possible impacts of its wind turbines on endangered Indiana bats, which were documented in the project area during acoustic surveys for bats.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects all species listed as threatened or endangered from “take,” which is broadly defined as to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect or attempt to do those actions.” Indiana bat mortality from wind turbines has been documented at other sites, and the Service and Criterion determined that take could occur at their 28-turbine wind project in Garrett County, Maryland. Thus, Criterion is responsible under the ESA to avoid, minimize and mitigate for that take.
Any person, tribe, business, or state that believes its activity may result in take of federally protected species should consider obtaining an incidental take permit.
- What is the purpose of an incidental take permit and habitat conservation plan?
An incidental take permit is required for actions that may take species protected under the Endangered Species Act. The permit allows projects with those risks to continue while taking actions to minimize, mitigate, and monitor impacts to those protected species.
A habitat conservation plan is required in the ESA permit application. The plan must ensure that the applicant takes steps to avoid and minimize take to listed species and then mitigates their impacts of the take that is unavoidable.
- What lands and activities would the permit cover?
The incidental take permit would cover operations of 28 wind turbines. The permit would cover 117 acres along nine miles of the ridge of Backbone Mountain in Oakland, Garrett County, Md.
- What is required to obtain an incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act?
Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act and implementing regulations define components that must be included in a habitat conservation plan:
• An assessment of impacts likely to result from the proposed taking of any listed species;
• Measures the permit applicant will conduct to monitor, minimize and mitigate for such impacts. The funding that will be made available to implement the measures; the procedures to deal with unforeseen or extraordinary circumstances;
• Alternative actions to the take of species that the applicant analyzed, and the reasons why the applicant did not adopt such alternatives; and
• Additional measures the Service may require as necessary or appropriate.
The Service has a habitat conservation plan manual at:
- Has take occurred already, and how much take is expected to occur?
Criterion did not recover any Indiana bats while monitoring all turbines daily in its first year of operations (April through November 2011) or during weekly searches conducted in 2012 and 2013.
Even with minimization practices included in the HCP, some level of take is possible. The permit would cover take of 12 Indiana bats during the 20-year project duration. This is estimated mortality from collision with turbines or from barotrauma, an internal hemorrhaging from sudden drops in air pressure at moving turbine blades. A model was used to calculate the expected level of take.
Additionally, although Criterion seeks coverage primarily for its operations, the Service concluded that Criterion’s clearing of approximately 50 acres of forest during project construction did not cause the take of Indiana bat.
- Are other wind projects seeking incidental take permits?
The Service issued an Incidental Take Permit for Beech Ridge Energy and a habitat conservation plan has been developed for its 100-turbine wind farm in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. The agency is also developing plans for projects in New York and Pennsylvania.
- How would take be mitigated?
Criterion will implement a cave gating project for hibernacula within the Appalachian Recovery Unit, which includes portions of Maryland and eastern Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The selected project will be implemented within 2 years of permit issuance.
- How would compliance with the plan be monitored?
Criterion must monitor, report and assess the impacts of take that results from activities covered by the permit. Criterion Wind conducted baseline monitoring of the Indiana bat during its first year of operations (April through November 2011). Turbines were checked daily to assess bat and bird mortality. No Indiana bats were found during this first year of monitoring. Monitoring was also conducted in 2012 and 2013 to evaluate if take of Indiana bats occurred and also to assess the effectiveness of on-site minimization measures (i.e., curtailment). Monitoring will be conducted in years 8, 13 and 18 of project operation to ensure that the take being authorized under the permit will not be exceeded. Incidental monitoring will also occur throughout the project duration.
- Why was a draft environmental assessment prepared?
The National Environmental Policy Act requires that federal agencies evaluate the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives. To meet NEPA requirements, the Service prepared a draft environmental assessment.
NEPA requires that the Service thoroughly examine the impacts of issuing an incidental take permit to Criterion. An EA must use the best science to analyze and describe the direct, indirect and cumulative effects that the proposed federal action and alternatives to that action may have on the quality of the human environment.
Indiana Bat and Other Wildlife
- Why might the Indiana bat be affected?
Bats may be injured by impact with turbines as they travel across the ridge tops and high plateaus where wind farms are placed. Bat mortalities are most common during late summer and early fall migration.
The Indiana bat range covers much of the eastern U.S., and recent incidences have shown that wind turbines can affect them. A dead Indiana bat was confirmed in 2011 at the North Allegheny Wind facility in Pennsylvania, on July 8, 2012 in Randolph County, WV, on October 3, 2012 in Paulding County, OH, and two were previously confirmed in 2009 and 2010 at the Fowler Ridge wind farm in Benton County, Indiana.
- What actions would Criterion implement to avoid and minimize the take of Indiana bats?
Companies can reduce the risk of take by modifying operations when bats are more active. Criterion would adjust its turbines when wind speeds are low (below 5 meters per second) between sunset and sunrise during late summer and early fall (July 15 to October 15), when bats are likeliest to encounter the turbines. During those times, turbines will turn parallel to the airflow. This reduces overall bat mortality by at least 50 percent with fairly small losses of power generation.
- Will the plan protect other species?
Other bats that are not protected by the Endangered Species Act have been documented at the project site through capture or acoustic monitoring. They include eastern red bats, hoary bats, little brown bats, big brown bats, tri-colored bats, Seminole bats, eastern small-footed bats, silver-haired bats and northern long-eared bats. Minimization measures for the Indiana bat will also benefit these other species. The Service also analyzes the impacts to these species in its draft EA.
Criterion developed its avian protection plan to minimize take of eagles and other birds. To avoid and minimize take of bald eagles, all power collection lines were buried underground, and local hunter education will promote removing carcasses and gut piles, which attract eagles to the area. Other measures include turning off lights inside turbines and reducing lights in other buildings to minimize affects to bird species migrating at night. Additional monitoring and adaptive management in the avian protection plan will require Criterion to further minimize or mitigate if problems arise.
- What is the status of the Indiana bat?
The Indiana bat was protected in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act (later the Endangered Species Act). Human disturbance during hibernation was resulting in the death of large numbers of bats. These small bats weigh as much as three pennies and have a wingspan of 9 to 11 inches. They are extremely vulnerable to disturbance because they hibernate in large numbers in only a few caves.
Other threats that have contributed to the species’ decline include commercialization of caves, loss of summer habitat, pesticides and other contaminants, and most recently, white-nose syndrome disease.
The most recent population estimate for the Appalachian Recovery Unit, which includes the Criterion project area, suggests there may be 17,584 Indiana bats across portions of Maryland and eastern Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The overall 2013 population, across 17 eastern U.S. states, was estimated to be 534,239.
Learn more at: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/Endangered/mammals/inba/index.html.
- What if new species are listed as threatened or endangered after the permit is issued?
If a species not covered by the permit is listed after issuance, it will not be included in the permit. Criterion could seek a permit amendment to cover additional species if operations are likely to result in take.
- How is the Service helping reduce wildlife impact from wind turbines?
The Service is committed to facilitating the development of wind energy while protecting our nation’s treasured landscapes and wildlife. However, if wind energy facilities are designed and constructed in the wrong locations, they can have significant negative impacts to fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats.
The Service finalized its draft, voluntary guidelines for land-based wind energy projects in March 2012. The guidelines are intended to address potential negative effects from utility-scale and community-scale projects. They describe the information needed to identify sites with low risk to wildlife and assess, mitigate, and monitor any adverse effects on fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats. Learn more at http://www.fws.gov/windenergy/
Where do I get a copy of the Habitat Conservation Plan?
This document and others information associated with it are available online at http://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/EndSppWeb/Criterion_documents.html