Another wind energy project: so close, yet so far away


Author: Brandon Middleton

An apparent green light for an East Coast wind energy project:

Constellation Energy has finalized its acquisition of a Garrett County wind project, closing a deal for the $140 million, 70-megawatt Criterion wind farm with California-based Clipper Windpower Inc.

The project, now under construction, is scheduled to go online by the end of 2010.

Great news, I suppose, but predicting more energy by the end of the year seems to be wishful thinking.

If you read the article further, you'll notice that Constellation Energy has quite a rosy view of when it will be able to operate turbines free and clear of the Endangered Species Act:

Constellation spokesman Larry McDonnell said the developer plans to voluntarily seek an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The company has not yet given a timeframe for filing its application.

The permit effectively protects developers from violating the federal Endangered Species Act by creating a plan in advance to deal with the possibility that endangered wildlife could be harmed by a project. In this region, much of that attention has been focused on the Indiana bat.

"Even though the risk of a negative impact to an Indiana bat is very remote, Constellation Energy will voluntarily seek the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's approval for any incidental impacts," McDonnell said. "We will commit to developing Indiana bat habitat improvement projects that will result in far greater benefits to the species than any remote risk posed by the project."

The permit application requires developers to create a habitat conservation plan for mitigating the effects of an incidental killing of wildlife. USFWS can also require that applicants conduct biological surveys of the project area.

The length of time needed for USFWS to review a permit application can range from less than three months to one year, depending on the scope and complexity of the conservation plan, according to USFWS permit instructions. The timeframe can also be affected by other factors, such as public controversy.

No matter the good intentions of Constellation, it's hard for me to believe the ITP process will be completed by the end of 2010, let alone a year from now. The article implies that there is only a remote chance that the permitting process will be accompanied by "public controversy."  But alternative energy is not immune from opposition, stifling litigation and eventual delay – especially when it comes to the Indiana bat.

Ah, the unintended consequences of a federal court decision gone wrong . . . .