The developer of the Highland New Wind Project (HNWD) – the first wind farm to be licensed by the Virginia State Corporation Commission – is facing mounting pressure from a consortium of local citizen and environmental groups concerned about possible violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The environmental group Highlanders for Responsible Development is urging project developer Henry T. McBride to obtain an incidental take permit (ITP) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The group contends that the 38 MW wind project, which McBride began on 220 acres of his own land near the Virginia-West Virginia border in 2002, will almost certainly harm Indiana bats and Virginia big-eared bats – each listed as endangered species – that live and migrate on and near the Allegheny Mountain project in western Highland.
According to Rick Webb, a member of Highlanders for Responsible Development who also runs a website chronicling the almost nine-year project, says the group wants a peaceful resolution.
‘We've fought from the very beginning for meaningful environmental assessment,’ Webb says.
However, the group informed the developer in May that it intends to bring suit in federal court to seek compliance with the ESA if HNWD chooses to go forward without an ITP in the face of clear risk to endangered Indiana and Virginia big-eared bats.
Webb says a second letter was sent to HNWD on Jan. 4. The environmental group has retained Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, a law firm that secured a precedent-setting victory in December 2009 against Invenergy in West Virginia.
Invenergy was forced to halt construction on a West Virginia wind farm because it failed to obtain an ITP. Invenergy later settled the case and subsequently secured its permit.
Webb says the group is fully prepared to file a formal complaint in federal court. However, it is not fully clear when exactly the developer intends to complete the project. Webb claims that construction began in earnest in October 2009 but was dormant for most of 2010 until November, when construction restarted then stopped, he says.
When reached for comment, HNWD spokesperson Frank Maisano, would only say that construction would resume when the winter weather clears, adding, ‘Hopefully we will complete the project this year.’
Financing for Highland, as well as a power purchase agreement, is still being negotiated.