The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent recommendations to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on how to minimize the impact of land-based wind farms on wildlife and habitat. Salazar will review and use the recommendations to help develop federal guidelines for evaluating wind energy development on public and private lands.
The recommendations are the result of a two-year process by a 22-member Wind Turbine Guidelines Federal Advisory Committee.
The report, “Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee” (PDF), provides policy recommendations and voluntary guidelines for siting and operating wind energy projects that will prevent or minimize potential impacts to wildlife and habitat.
A “tiered approach” for assessing potential harmful impacts on wildlife and their habitats is at the heart of the Fish & Wildlife Service’s recommendations to the Interior Secretary. This decision-making framework takes into consideration three primary areas: collecting information in increasing detail, quantifying the possible risks of proposed wind energy projects to wildlife and habitats, and evaluating those risks to make siting, construction, and operation decisions.
The recommended framework guides all stages of wind energy development through a five-tiered approach that is designed to assess the risks of project development at each stage based on site-specific conditions in terms of species and habitat impacts.
The five tiers include:
— Tier 1: Preliminary evaluation or screening of sites
— Tier 2: Site characterization
— Tier 3: Field studies to document site wildlife conditions and predict project impacts
— Tier 4: Post-construction fatality studies
— Tier 5: Other post-construction studies
The guideline also covers mitigation policies and principles, the applicability of adaptive management, and considerations related to cumulative impacts, habitat fragmentation, and landscape-level analysis. It also recommends the need for additional research and collaboration related to potential wind energy wildlife impacts.
Committee members also propose incentives for developers who demonstrate due care by voluntarily implementing the tiered approach and working with the Service during the entire process.
The guideline will likely speed up the long approval process for some wind farm developers. The Cape Wind project is a good example, which has battled local businesses, politicians and environmentalists for several years to build its proposed 130 wind tower farm. Salazar is expected to reach an agreement on the project by the end of April.
But despite the long process, the U.S. wind industry installed 10,000 megawatts of capacity in 2009, with new wind power projects accounting for 39 percent of all new generating capacity last year, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
In other wind energy news, the AWEA recommends operational upgrades to the electric utility system to make it more efficient and capable of handling larger amounts of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
In a filing (PDF) to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the AWEA recommends several steps that the agency should take to upgrade grid operating procedures to accommodate new energy sources and advanced computing and communications technology.
“These reforms will make the power system operate more efficiently, even in areas where there is not a large amount of wind energy,” said Rob Gramlich, AWEA senior VP for Public Policy, in a press release. Other benefits include lower energy bills and more reliable power, he said.
Gramlich said many of the reform recommendations have already been adopted by Europe where wind provides ten percent or more of the electricity supply in many countries including Spain, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, and Denmark.