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Feds OK wildlife plan for WV wind farm

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CHARLESTON, WV (AP) -

Federal authorities have approved Beech Ridge Energy's plan to minimize the impact of its southern West Virginia wind farm on endangered bats and other wildlife.

The company's habitat conservation plan includes limiting turbine operations when Indiana bats and Virginia big-eared bats are most active.

Beech Ridge also plans to spend up to $758,000 on two off-site projects designed to protect the endangered bats' populations. One project is aimed at protecting the Indiana bat's hibernating, foraging and swarming habitat, while the other targets hibernating Virginia big-eared bats, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documents.

A permit issued by the federal agency for the wind farm requires Beech Ridge to implement conservation measures to minimize and mitigate the project's damage to endangered wildlife.

The wind farm in Greenbrier and Nicholas counties is the first wind project in the U.S. to implement a habitat conservation plan for Virginia big-eared bats, the federal agency said in a news release. The project also is among the first to implement such a plan for the Indiana bat.

The permit covers 67 existing turbines and up to 33 additional turbines planned at the wind farm, about 20 miles north of Lewisburg.

Beech Ridge has estimated that 53 Indiana bats and 14 Virginia big-eared bats could be killed by flying into turbines during a 25-year period.

So far, Beach Ridge has not reported finding any dead Indiana or Virginia big-eared bats at the wind farm, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

The Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to harm or kill federally threatened or endangered wildlife. The law allows the "incidental take," or killing, of endangered bats that collide with turbines.

However, the law requires permit applicants to meet a certain threshold for minimizing damage to endangered wildlife.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said it issued the permit Thursday after determining that Beech Ridge had met the threshold.

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