Still reeling from turbine-siting and eagle-specific guidelines released by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) last month, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is urging a return to what it calls ‘consensus recommendations,’ which the association claims were broadly supported by stakeholders.
John Anderson, AWEA's director of siting policy, explains that the March 2010 recommendations that were delivered to Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), were widely supported by stakeholders and were the culmination of a more than two-year collaborative Federal Advisory Committee process, which also included representatives of states, tribes and wildlife conservation groups.
‘Not only did the recommendations address conservation needs, but there were also concessions that the wind industry was willing to go along with,’ Anderson says, speaking from AWEA's Wind Power Siting Workshop in Kansas City, Mo.
However, the turbine and eagle-specific guidelines the FWS released in mid-February deviated significantly from what AWEA had advocated.
The draft guidelines from the DOI was released as two documents. The first document, ‘Draft Voluntary, Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines,’ has been developed for the industry to avoid and minimize impacts to federally protected migratory birds, bats and other wildlife resulting from the site selection, construction, and operation and maintenance of land-based wind energy facilities.
The second document, ‘Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance,’ is used by FWS employees who must evaluate impacts from proposed wind projects to eagles protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Wind developers will have to follow the guidelines in order to obtain a take permit.
‘At some point, these guidelines will be adopted as part of state and local requirements or even required by financial institutions,’ Anderson explains. ‘That's what we're fighting against.’
AWEA claims the guidance could delay the construction of projects by up to three years and require operating projects to retroactively conduct post-construction wildlife studies for a minimum of two years and as much as five years, adding unforeseen costs to the operating budgets of these facilities.
AWEA says such a ruling could require adaptive management, meaning increased operational changes – such as shutting off turbines at certain times of the year – that will add further costs to projects already permitted and operating.
Anderson recalls that there was some discussion about adaptive management but there was not a clear policy, adding that it was his belief that adaptive management would be left open to wind developers.
AWEA also says that the ruling will expand applicability for the National Environmental Policy Act to projects built on private lands, adding time and costs to developing wind projects when there is no federal staff to perform an increased amount of administrative work.
According to an analysis complied by AWEA, the guidelines affect more than 34 GW of potential wind power development and $68 billion in investment. In addition, an estimated 27,000 jobs are at risk due to the FWS policies on golden eagles.
AWEA says it cannot support the guidelines, which appeared in the Federal Register on Feb. 18, as they are currently drafted and is working on a response during the 90-day public comment period.