June 6, 2019: The 69-MW nameplate, 30-turbine Kawailoa Wind Farm on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii seems unlikely to receive its requested license to kill an additional 55 endangered Hawaiian hoary bats and without the license, the wind farm must shut down at night to protect the nocturnal bats or face criminal prosecution. Authorizing Kawailoa Wind Farm to kill more bats is not possible because the project fails to meet two criteria required by endangered species laws:
A.) Kawailoa Wind Farm’s HCP Fails to Minimize and Mitigate Take to the Maximum Extent Practicable: Kawailoa Wind Farm is required to shut down at night because endangered species laws require applicants to minimize and mitigate take to the maximum extant practicable. In 2016, and 2019, new information about the Hawaiian hoary bat (that was not available in 2011, when the initial license to kill 60 bats over 20 years was issued) indicates the wind farm’s proposed compensatory mitigation does not help the bat. In the absence of mitigation to offset the bat take, legally, all available resources must go toward minimizing the take (to the maximum extent practicable, financially). Fortunately for the bat, Kawailoa Wind Farm is ideally situated to be able to afford to shut down at night, with their 20-year $0.22/kwh power purchase agreement (compared to today’s $0.10/kwh agreements for new wind farms and $0.05/kwh solar farms), and their recent bankruptcy reorganization. Kawailoa Wind Farm, with an estimated $34 million in gross annual income (based on Hawaiian Electric Company data), appears to be among the most lucrative wind farms in the World. Shutting down at night year-round would entail less than a 45% loss of power generation because the shut down would not apply to very high wind conditions when the bats are not flying (which the wind farm appears to have elegantly worked out in Appendix D of a PEIS addressing the project). Shutting down at night April 15 through September 15 (an option mentioned in the PEIS) would not minimize bat take to the maximum extent practicable because this particular wind farm can afford to shut down at night year-round.
B.) Nighttime operation of Kawailoa Wind Farm would jeopardize the continued existence of the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat because it would reduce appreciably the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the bat species on Oahu. Regrettably, Kawailoa Wind Farm was constructed on the most favored bat habitat on the whole island on land bisected by the largest gulches on Oahu, with the highest rates of bat detection on the island. Bat data collected in 2018 indicates gulches, ungulate-grazed areas, and low-density developed land – like the land within and surrounding the wind farm – are prime bat foraging habitat. The Hawaiian hoary bat appears to be territorial – presumably there are fewer than 50 bats left on Oahu (they are very rare and have only been seen in a few places, including Pupukea, near the wind farm) and the wind farm is located on prime bat habitat, we won’t know we’ve killed the last bat on Oahu until we kill the last bat on Oahu. As bats are killed at the wind farm they would be replaced by adjacent bats moving in to the desired gulch habitat, until there are no more. Considering the 2018 authorization of take of 51 bats at the Na Pua Makani Wind Farm (which is in litigation), the cumulative effects of authorization of take of an additional 55 bats would be a textbook example of jeopardizing the continued existence of the endangered bat species.
2018 radio telemetry bat tracking by consultant H.T. Harvey indicates the average core area used by a male Hawaiian hoary bat (the 50% kernel where the male bat spent 50% of the time) is 2,967.5 acres. Kawailoa Wind Farm’s HCP proposes to offset take of 55 bats (Tier 4) by contributing to one sixth the purchase price for the the purchase of approximately 3,000 acres of grazed land (zoned agricultural) and native forest (zoned preservation). The bats prefer low-density developed, grazed, and gulch land. When the wind farms were initially permitted eight years ago, it was reasonable to believe native forest conservation benefited the endangered bats and it was thought the core area of a bat territory was 20-40 acres. We now know the purchase of approximately 500 acres (the wind farm’s portion) of land that’s already agricultural and preservation does not help one single bat. This land purchase helps the State get recreation areas and it helps native plants and birds – it does not help the endangered bats. Regrettably, the proposed mitigation site is approximately four miles from the wind farm – the home range of a bat at the mitigation site would likely overlap with the wind farm site (the 50% kernel was 2,967.5 acres – the other half the time, the bat’s range spans beyond this acreage). What would help the endangered bats is nighttime shut down of the giant spinning turbine blades.
It would not be lawful for this lucrative wind farm to kill any bats because new information indicates they can’t mitigate for take of even one bat so they must shut down at night to the extent they are financially able to. Had their initial 20-year incidental take license authorized take of 200+ bats, with 20 acres of native habitat conservation per bat (which seemed reasonable at the time), they would be now be able to kill all the bats on Oahu – but now that new information refutes the benefits of mitigation and the financial capability of this wind farm in relation to others, on this “maximum extent practicable” basis alone, the take can’t be authorized. And even if it could meet the maximum extent practicable standard, the take still can’t be authorized because killing 55 more bats (not to mention the other tiers of requested take) would jeopardize the continued existence of the endangered bat by appreciably reducing the likelihood of the survival of the endangered bat on Oahu.
Beyond its benefits to the vulnerable endangered bats, it’s worth mentioning this night-time shut down will also benefit Pupukea residents who’s sleep is interrupted by the noise from the spinning turbines 1,200 meters away in addition to the and HECO ratepayers bilked out of $0.22/kwh for every kwh the wind turbines pump into the transmission line, whether the power is used or it dissipates.
It’s worth mentioning the Kawailoa Wind Farm could have amended their permit in 2015 or 2016, before much was known about the bats and it was reasonable to conclude proposed habitat conservation would benefit the animals. Did they not seek the permit because they wanted to wait until the six year statute of limitations had passed so the EA and FONSI and the wind farm’s failure to disclose (to the wildlife agencies and the public) the adverse effects to the human environment had passed so their initial license wouldn’t be litigated? They could have just have fully disclosed worst-case impacts in an EIS and have been honest, and done with it. Kawailoa Wind Farm’s inability to secure the take authorization now, because of the timing of this unanticipated new information, is poetic justice in light of this apparent purposeful stalling.
A sleeping endangered Hawaiian hoary bat adult female at her maternal roost where she’ll raise twin bat pups.
For additional information: https://www.senatorriviere.com/wind-turbines
and related Change.org Petition (Comments Due June 10, 2019)