CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The operator of a southern West Virginia wind farm estimates that several dozen endangered bats could be killed by flying into turbine blades during a 25-year period, according to a federal review of the risks to the flying mammals.
The estimated death toll comes as Beech Ridge Energy requests a permit under the federal Endangered Species Act that would allow the "incidental take," or killing, of endangered bats that collide with the turbines.
The law, however, requires permit applicants to meet a certain threshold for minimizing damage to endangered wildlife.
So far, Beech Ridge reports it hasn't found any dead Virginia big-eared or Indiana bats at its wind farm, consisting of 67 turbines with up to 33 more planned in Greenbrier and Nicholas counties.
Even with efforts to minimize risk to bats, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says some deaths are possible.
Beech Ridge estimates that the death toll could reach 53 Indiana bats and 14 Virginia big-eared bats over a quarter century, the service said. That reflects a lower estimated mortality rate among Indiana bats. Beech Ridge earlier predicted that as many as 70 Indiana bats could be killed.
"This lower take is based on the company's commitment to further reduce take, as well as on recent data on bat species abundance and composition in the landscape," the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
The Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to harm or kill federally threatened or endangered wildlife.
The review process is entering its last stages. Final versions of the company's habitat conservation plan and the Fish and Wildlife Service's environmental impact statement were released for public scrutiny in recent days.
A decision on whether to approve the incidental take permit could come by year's end.
Beech Ridge would make annual reports on bat deaths at the wind farm, about 20 miles northwest of Lewisburg.
Energy companies can reduce the risk to bats by modifying wind farm operations when the animals are most active, the wildlife agency said.
Beech Ridge's wind farm operates year-round. However, the company has limited operations when bats are most active.