The northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) has been a hot topic in the wind industry in recent months. In October 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed the bat be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. After review and much discussion, including numerous public comments, the USFWS expects a decision on the listing no later than April 2, 2015, with the effective date planned for May 2, 2015.

If the northern long-eared bat makes the list as an endangered species, we can expect significant and long-lasting implications to the wind industry. Developers will be faced with a new set of challenges, which may affect pre-construction study timelines, project design, financing, construction timing and ultimately the commercial operation date.

During pre-construction site evaluation, project proposers within northern long-eared bat range can expect more intensive pre-construction studies to determine the presence or absence of the species, their hibernation shelters, and prime summer roosting habitats. The need for this data will likely mean longer project lead times and higher project development costs.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stated that if the bat is listed as endangered, projects requiring a Section 404 permit after April 1, 2015 will need to address potential impacts to the species. Projects proposing clearing trees 3-inch diameter or larger, for instance, may require additional coordination with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

In addition, an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) would likely be developed for the northern long-eared bat.  As demonstrated by the ITP process for the Indian Bat (Myotis sodalis) listed as endangered in 1967, it can sometimes take years to develop a supporting Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).  While developers are not required by law to seek an ITP, it may help mitigate potential legal actions should bats be killed by the project.

Once built, wind projects in northern long-eared bat territory could be subject to adaptive management strategies such as increasing cut-in speeds or operational hours during bat migration periods to reduce bat fatalities. On-going post-construction monitoring and reporting may also be necessary. Funding for habitat enhancement or preservation projects may be required to offset potential unavoidable impacts to the species from the project.

If the northern long-eared bat is listed as endangered this coming spring, wind project approval timelines, overall development, and operational costs may feel a significant impact. Early coordination and evaluation strategies with the USFWS, and a roadmap for avoiding, mitigating, and retiring potential risks will greatly help keep projects on track.  While the potential listing could present another obstacle for wind development, it doesn’t have to be a show-stopper.