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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects 5 Planning for and Regulating Wind-Energy Development The purpose of this chapter is to describe the current status of planning and regulation for wind energy in the United States, with an emphasis on the Mid-Atlantic Highlands, and then critique current efforts with an eye to where they might be improved. To accomplish this purpose, we reviewed guidelines intended to direct planning and regulation of wind-energy development as well as regulatory frameworks in use at varying geographic scales. To enhance our interpretation of wind-energy planning and regulation in the United States, we drew on the experiences of other countries with longer histories of wind-energy development and different traditions of land-use planning and development regulation. We focused on onshore wind energy, although many elements of planning and regulation that influence onshore wind-energy developments apply to offshore installations as well. As with other human endeavors that engage both private and public resources, wind-energy development is influenced by an interconnected, but not necessarily well-integrated, suite of policy, planning, and regulatory tools. “Policy” can be broadly defined to encompass a variety of goals, tools, and practices—some codified through laws; some less formally specified. (For a discussion of traditional and new policy tools, see, e.g., NRC 2002.) Policies encompass, but are not limited to, planning and regulation. Policy tools related to wind energy, including national and regional goals, tax incentives, and subsidies, have been discussed in Chapter 2, so we concentrate on planning and regulation here. “Planning”—whether legally mandated or not—is a process that typically involves establishing goals; assessing resources and constraints, as well as likely future conditions; and
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects then developing and refining options. “Regulation,” as understood within a legal framework, typically consists of methods and standards to implement laws. Regulation is created and carried out by public agencies charged with this responsibility by law. The scope of agency discretion in establishing and administering regulations depends largely upon whether the law is highly detailed or more general. The chapter begins with a review of guidelines that have been developed to direct wind-energy planning and/or regulation. Some of these have been promulgated by governmental or non-governmental organizations concerned with limited aspects of wind energy, such as the guidelines for reducing wildlife impacts developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS 2003). Some are more comprehensive in scope, such as those developed by the National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC 2002). We also consider guidelines developed by states to direct wind-energy development toward areas judged most suitable and to assist local governments in carrying out their regulatory responsibilities with respect to wind energy. Then we review regulation of wind-energy development via federal laws, including development on federal lands, in situations where there is a federal nexus by reason of federal funding or permitting, and where there is no such nexus. Next we review regulation of wind-energy development at the state and local levels by concentrating on recurring themes: the locus of regulatory authority (state, local, or a combination thereof); the locus of review for environmental effects; information required for review; public participation in the review; and balancing positive and negative effects of wind-energy development. In these sections we also report on the interaction between planning and regulation, although that interaction is generally less well developed in the United States than in some of the other countries we examined. Then we critique what we have learned about regulation of wind energy by examining some of the tensions in regulation, for example between local and broader-level interests and between flexibility and predictability of regulatory processes. Finally, we present a set of recommendations for improving wind-energy planning and regulation in the United States. GUIDELINES FOR WIND-ENERGY PLANNING AND REGULATION In the United States and, notably, in other nations with considerable wind-energy experience, governmental and non-governmental organizations working at various geographic scales have adopted guidelines to help those developing wind-energy projects and those regulating wind-energy development to meet a mix of public and private interests in a complex, and often controversial, technical environment. Here we review U.S. guidelines for different jurisdictional levels (e.g., state, local), for different environ-
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects mental components (e.g., wildlife), and for the different purposes of guiding planning versus guiding regulatory review. We also draw on the experience of other countries where guidelines for wind-energy development have a longer history. Some guidelines are for proactive planning of wind-energy development. “Planning” is an ambiguous term, however. Within the context of wind-energy development, it can refer to highly structured processes that carry considerable legal weight and result in identifying certain areas as suitable for wind turbines (as in the Denmark example below). Alternatively, it can refer to loosely structured processes that are largely advisory and result in criteria for evaluating the favorable and unfavorable attributes of prospective sites (as in the Berkshire example below). In addition, planning for wind-energy development may take a broad view of the incremental impacts of multiple wind-energy projects in a region, or it may take a narrow view and focus primarily on a single project. And, geographic scales for planning range from the national to the local level. Other guidelines focus on regulation. They prescribe for regulatory authorities reviewing wind-energy developments what procedures should be followed, what kinds of information should be examined, and what criteria should be used to make permitting decisions. Many guidelines mingle the two functions of planning and project-specific regulatory review. In practice, planning guidelines that suggest where and how wind-energy development should be done may become criteria for regulatory permitting decisions if projects inconsistent with planning guidelines are rejected. The United States is in the early stages of learning how to plan for and regulate wind energy. The experiences of other countries, where debates over wind energy have been going on for much longer, can be instructive for bringing U.S. frameworks to maturity. For example, Britain and Australia have dealt with controversies about wind-energy development by working with stakeholder groups, including opponents of wind energy, to develop “Best Practice Guidelines” (BWEA 1994; AusWEA 2002). BWEA (British Wind Energy Association) and AusWEA (Australian Wind Energy Association) were convinced that “they needed to become more transparent and more engaged with the public than any other industry” (Gipe 2003). In Ireland, the Minister of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government released an extensive “Planning Guidelines” document on wind energy in June 2006 (DEHLG 2006). This document advises local authorities on planning for wind energy in order to ensure consistency throughout the country in identifying suitable locations and in reviewing applications for wind-energy projects. Not only are these guidelines prescriptive—that is, they express procedures and approaches that should be taken—but they also are linked to other government policies.
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects A prescriptive national approach is less likely in the United States, where each state is governed by different laws and policies regarding the regulation of wind-energy projects, but the comprehensive approaches used in other countries could be adopted at the state level. The highly structured approach of Denmark, for example (see Box 5-1), could be informative for states wishing to develop integrated frameworks to plan for and regulate wind-energy development. We note, however, that Denmark is smaller and more homogeneous than many U.S. states, has a much stronger tradition of central planning of land use, and has many wind projects owned by local cooperatives, rather than private developers. National Wind Coordinating Committee Guidelines The NWCC was established in 1994 as a collaboration among representatives of wind equipment suppliers and developers, green power marketers, electric utilities, state utility commissions, federal agencies, and environmental organizations. Its permitting handbooks propose guidelines for how wind-energy developments should be reviewed. In 2002, the Siting Subcommittee of the NWCC revised its Permitting of Wind Energy Facilities: A Handbook, originally issued in 1998 (NWCC 2002). Intended for those involved in evaluating wind-energy projects, the handbook describes the five typical phases of permitting processes for energy facilities, including wind turbines and transmission facilities: Pre-Application: This phase occurs before the permit application is filed, during which the developer meets with the permitting agency(ies) and others immediately affected, such as nearby landowners, and local agencies. This phase may be mandatory or voluntary, and it may involve public notice and/or public meetings. Application review: This phase begins when the permit application is filed. Its activities, required documents, and public involvement requirements depend upon the application review process, as does its duration. In some cases, agencies may be required to reach a decision within a specified period. Decision making: In this phase, the lead agency determines not only whether to allow the project but also whether to impose measures constraining the project’s construction, operation, monitoring, and decommissioning. During this phase, public hearings are likely to be required. Administrative appeals and judicial review: Appeals of permit decisions may be made to the decision maker, to the administrative review board, or to the courts. Permit compliance: This phase extends through the project’s life-
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects BOX 5-1 Planning for Wind-Energy Development in Denmark Until the beginning of the 1990s, the approach in Denmark (like the U.S. approach today) was: “Find yourself a site, and then apply for permission to erect your wind turbine(s)” (DWEA 2004). This laissez-faire approach changed in the early 1990s, when Denmark’s third energy plan—Energy 2000—was put forward. It included the goal of 1,500 MW of installed wind energy by 2005. In 1994, an executive order, the “Wind Turbine Circular,” made cities responsible for planning for wind turbines, including looking for appropriate sites. In 1999, with a new Wind Turbine Circular, the planning responsibility was redirected to county (amt) authorities. These county-level efforts, and corresponding local efforts, target areas considered suitable for wind farms. The original goal of 1,500 MW nationally was met several years before the 2005 deadline.In 2002, the Danish government indicated that further onshore wind-energy development would not be encouraged but that offshore wind-energy development would be allowed. Denmark’s success in installing so much wind-energy capacity has been attributed to numerous factors including (1) the relatively small size of wind projects (1-30 turbines), (2) cooperative ownership of many wind projects with direct benefits to local citizens, and (3) comprehensive planning and review in which localities directly participate (J. Lemming, RISØ, personal communication 2006; Nielsen 2002). Regulatory Review Within a Planning Context In Denmark, planning for land-based wind development is linked to the regulatory review process. The centerpiece of the review process is a mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) (if a project involves more than three wind turbines or wind turbines over 80 meters in height). The regional planning authority—typically, the county—is responsible for initiating the EIA and ensuring its quality. The EIA is a joint effort of the developer, the developer’s consultants, and the county. The EIA must describe the project and establish that the site is appropriate from a wind resource standpoint.The site is further described, including working areas and roads to be used during construction. Alternative sites must be investigated, as well as the no-build alternative, and the developer must substantiate why the proposed site is preferred. time. It may include monitoring, inspection, addressing local complaints during the project’s operation, as well as following up on requirements for closure and decommissioning. These five phases are included in the handbook as descriptions of what typically happens (given a great deal of variation among states), not as recommendations of what should happen. However, the authors of the handbook suggest eight principles that should be followed when structuring a permit review process:
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects The EIA must describe the landscape surrounding the site, with emphasis on anything that may be affected during the construction or operation phases of the project. Protected species of flora and fauna require special consideration, as do birds protected under international agreements. Any adverse effects on water reserves must be noted. If the project is to be located outside areas previously designated for wind farms, conflicts over the use of land (e.g., because of protected species, arable land, scenic resources) must be given special attention. The EIA also should assess the project’s positive environmental impacts (e.g., reduced CO2,NOx, and SO2. Standards have been set for evaluating impacts on the human environment. No turbine may be sited closer to the nearest residence than a distance of four times the height of the turbine.The EIA must address adverse noise and visual impacts, including cumulative impacts from multiple turbines within a radius of 1 to 2 km. The noise level from the wind turbine(s) must be estimated, using a protocol described in the Noise Declaration (a national-level regulation).The EIA must describe how far shadows from the turbines will reach at all times of year, and the layout of the turbines in relation to major landscape features must be described. Possible adverse effects on property values, tourism, and other commercial activities in the vicinity should be described. Prior to preparation of the EIA and the planning documents, the project must be publicized for at least four weeks, with opportunities for private citizens and organizations to submit suggestions and comments.These submissions must be included when preparing the EIA. Following completion of the EIA and the planning documents (or their amendments), this material must be publicized for at least eight weeks, after which a public hearing is held where suggestions or objections are again gathered. Following the final decision on the project, anyone who has submitted objections to the project must receive a written answer to the objections. When the EIA is completed, authorities at the county and local levels formulate amendments to their wind-energy plans, using the EIA as a common point of reference. During the subsequent public comment period, the state can veto the project (this is a national-level decision) but must substantiate why it is exercising its veto power. After public hearings, the plans are presented to county and local political bodies (the county council and the city council). The county council or city council may approve or reject the project.Construction begins only if the project has been approved (Ringkøbing Amt, Møller og Grønborg, and Carl Bro 2002). Significant public involvement: Including early and meaningful information and opportunities for involvement. An issue-oriented process: One which focuses the decision on issues that can be dealt with “in a factual and logical manner” (NWCC 2002, p. 16). Clear decision criteria: As well as clear specification of factors that must be considered and minimum requirements that must be met. Coordinated permitting process: Including both horizontal coordination among various agencies and vertical coordination between state and local decision makers.
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects Reasonable time frames: In part to provide the developer with known points for providing information, making changes, and receiving a decision. Advance planning: In particular, early communication on the part of the developers and the permitting agencies. Timely administrative and judicial review: Including addressing issues such as who has standing to initiate a review and time limits within which reviews must be initiated. Active compliance monitoring: Including specifying reports that must be submitted and establishing site inspection timetables, non-compliance penalties, a complaint resolution process, etc. Federal Government Guidelines Concerns about the effects of wind-energy projects on bird and bat mortality, in combination with federal laws protecting some wildlife species, led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to provide interim guidelines for evaluating wildlife impacts (technical aspects of which are reviewed in Chapter 3). We know of no other federal-level guidelines addressing the review of wind-energy projects on private land. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reviews all structures 200 feet or taller for compliance with aviation-safety guidelines. There have not been uniform standards until fairly recently (see Box 5-2). Both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) provide guidance for the review of wind-energy projects on lands under their jurisdictions. These are described below under federal regulatory approaches to wind energy. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Interim Guidelines On May 13, 2003, the USFWS released “Interim Guidance on Avoiding and Minimizing Wildlife Impacts from Wind Turbines” (USFWS 2003). Adherence to the guidelines is voluntary, as the guidelines note: . . . the wind industry is rapidly expanding into habitats and regions that have not been well studied. The Service therefore suggests a precautionary approach to site selection and development and will employ this approach in making recommendations and assessing impacts of windenergy developments. We encourage the wind-energy industry to follow these guidelines and, in cooperation with the Service, to conduct scientific research to provide additional information on the impacts of wind-energy development on wildlife. We further encourage the industry to look for opportunities to promote bird and other wildlife conservation when planning wind-energy facilities (e.g., voluntary habitat acquisition or conservation easements) (USFWS 2003, emphasis added).
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects BOX 5-2 Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) Obstruction Lighting Guidelines To determine lighting requirements, each site and obstruction is reviewed by the FAA for particular safety concerns, such as distance from nearby airports. Negative effects of required lighting on night-flying birds and bats, and sometimes also on people near wind-energy projects, have prompted revisions of initial lighting standards for wind turbines. A recent study conducted by the FAA Office of Aviation Research resulted in recommendations for obstruction lighting that considerably reduced earlier lighting guidelines (Patterson 2005). The following chart summarizes the former and current guidelines, though individual site requirements may vary. Source of current guidelines: FAA (2007). Former FAA Guidelines Current FAA Guidelines Lights mounted on the nacelle of every turbine Two flashing or pulsed light fixtures for night lighting Two flashing white light fixtures during daytime Flashing can be synchronous or random Lights needed only to mark periphery (ends or edges) of project or cluster; with maximum lighting distance of a half-mile; highest turbines must also be lit. Single red flashing or pulsing light fixture at night. White strobe lights may be used but not in conjunction with red lights (one or the other) Flashing must be synchronous (all at the same time) No daytime lighting required as long as turbines are a white color (not gray). Preferred light is a red flashing (L-864) with minimum light intensity of 2000 candelas. Lights should be mounted above the nacelle height for visibility (hub may obscure) Turbine locations should be noted on aviation maps. The guidelines include recommendations regarding: A two-step site evaluation protocol (first, identify and evaluate reference sites—i.e., high-quality wildlife areas; second, evaluate potential development sites to determine risk to wildlife and rank sites against each other using the highest-ranking reference site as a standard). Site development (e.g., placement and configuration of turbines, development of infrastructure, planning for habitat restoration); and turbine design and operation (USFWS 2003).
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects The guidelines direct wind-energy development away from concentrations of birds and bats and toward fragmented or degraded habitat (rather than areas of intact and healthy wildlife habitat). The guidelines also address some desirable features of regulatory review processes, such as recommending multiyear, multiseason pre-construction studies of wildlife use at proposed project sites; multiyear, multiseason post-construction studies to monitor wind-project impacts; and involvement of independent wildlife agency specialists in development and implementation of pre- and post-construction studies. The guidelines were circulated to the public with a request for review and the Service recently announced the development of a Federal Advisory Committee Act-compliant collaborative effort to revise the guidelines based on public comment. State and Regional Guidelines Several states with wind resources have developed guidelines for siting and/or permitting wind-energy projects. This has been particularly true for states where review occurs at the local level, since the projects may be complex and very different from the kinds of projects most local governing bodies are used to addressing. The NWCC Guidelines (NWCC 2002) appear to have provided a useful template for states, with basic information that can be adapted to the particular needs and conditions of states that have wind potential. Below we describe a few of these to illustrate the types of provisions that state guidelines may include. Kansas’s wind-energy guidelines were adapted from the NWCC Guidelines and are intended to assist local communities in regulating land use for wind-energy projects. The guidelines recognize landscape features that are important in Kansas. Under “Land Use Guidelines,” (KSREWG 2003, p. 3) native tallgrass prairie landscapes are singled out as having particular value, especially where they remain unfragmented. Cumulative impacts are noted because there is intense interest in wind-energy development in certain areas of the state. Kansas includes guidelines on “Socioeconomic, Public Service and Infrastructure,” as well as on public interaction (KSREWG 2003, p. 6). South Dakota also adapted NWCC permitting guidelines (SDGFP 2005). In sections concerning “natural and biological resources,” South Dakota’s guidelines call attention to areas of the state that have been identified as potential sites for wind-energy development, but are considered “unique/rare in South Dakota” (SDGFP 2005, p. 1). Developers are urged to use environmental experts to make an early evaluation of the biological setting and to communicate with agency, university, and environmental organizations. They are warned that “if a proposed turbine site has a large
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects potential for biological conflicts and an alternative site is eventually deemed appropriate, the time and expense of detailed wind resource evaluation work may be lost” (SDGFP 2005, p. 3). In sections on “visual resources,” developers are told to inform stakeholders about what to expect from a wind-energy project, target areas already modified by human activities, and be prepared to make tradeoffs and coordinate planning across jurisdictions and with all stakeholders. Under “socioeconomic, public services, and infrastructure,” developers are admonished not to take advantage of municipalities that lack zoning or permitting processes for wind-energy development. Wisconsin’s guidelines (WIDNR 2004) focus on natural resource issues with minimal guidance in other areas. The guidelines direct wind-energy development away from wildlife areas, migration corridors, current or proposed major state ecosystem acquisition and restoration projects, state and local parks and recreation areas, active landfills (because they attract birds), wetlands, wooded corridors, major tourist/scenic areas, and airports and landing strips clear zones. USFWS guidelines are cited as models for pre-construction studies, with two years of post-construction monitoring recommended for the first wind-energy projects in a particular area. In contrast with guidelines focused exclusively on wildlife issues, some guidelines reflect a much more comprehensive approach. As illustrated in the accompanying box (Box 5-3), the wind-energy siting guidelines developed by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission in Massachusetts are multifaceted and proactive, as is an assessment methodology prepared by the Appalachian Mountain Club for wind energy in the Berkshires (BRPC 2004; Publicover 2004). Regulatory review processes could possibly use such a method to evaluate proposed wind-energy projects to see if they met a threshold for suitability. Similar procedures have been proposed for other states, such as Virginia, where Boone et al. (2005) proposed a land-classification database for use in screening out sites that are likely to be deemed unsuitable for wind-energy development, such as designated wilderness areas or concentrations of birds or bats. Guidelines Directed Toward Local Regulation In some cases, the guidelines that states have developed are intended to serve as models for local ordinances and local-level review processes. The “Michigan Siting Guidelines for Wind Energy Systems” (MIDLEG 2005) is a model zoning ordinance for local governments, although it notes that “the Energy Office, DLEG (Department of Labor and Economic Growth) has no authority to issue regulations related to siting wind energy systems”
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects BOX 5-3 Guidelines for Planning and Regulatory Review of Wind Energy in the Berkshires, Massachusetts Perhaps as a result of interest in wind-energy project development in the Massachusetts Berkshire region, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission developed “Wind Power Siting Guidelines” (BRPC 2004). Most of these guidelines refer to desired features of application and regulatory review procedures. For example, the guidelines direct that viewshed analyses should be done “with the most accurate elevation data available from the state using a GIS such as ArcGIS Spatial Analyst or 3D Analyst” (BRPC 2004, p.1) and that “important cultural locations, Shakespeare & Company, and Hancock Shaker Village should be located on the map to determine if they will be impacted by the visibility of the turbine development” (pp. 1-2).There are also safety guidelines, such as “Existing homes are not within potential safety impact areas from ice or blade throw or tower failure” (p. 2). The commission also asked the state of Massachusetts to become involved in wind-energy development to provide “state-wide siting guidelines for the development of wind power facilities” (p. 3) and “financial assistance to municipalities with areas conducive to wind-energy development to develop adequate local land use regulations for wind energy facilities” (p. 4).The commission suggested that communities hosting wind-energy projects should require that applicants pay for consultants to assist the municipality in evaluating the possible and negative impacts of a proposed project and in establishing beneficial agreements for municipal revenue generation. Also working in the Berkshires, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) developed “A Methodology for Assessing Conflicts Between Windpower Development and Other Land Uses” (Publicover 2004). This document considers various ecological and sociocultural characteristics that make sites appropriate or inappropriate for wind-energy projects, beyond engineering or economic considerations. Beginning with Geographic Information System (GIS) layers identifying wind sites of Class 4 and above, the AMC methodology overlaid known ecological, recreational, and scenic resources onto the wind map. Resource data were assigned “conflict ratings” that included importance of a resource (local, state, federal significance), proximity to the site, and size of the area.These data can be examined with different subjective weightings on ecological and social factors to see how they might affect an overall site suitability rating. A trial application of this method of analysis suggested that certain sites had far fewer conflicts than others, but the authors cautioned that many variables that could be important to siting decisions were not included in the study. (MIDLEG 2005, p. 1). Pennsylvania also has produced a model zoning ordinance for local communities (Lycoming County 2005), discussed below in the analysis of state and local regulatory review. Both the Michigan and Pennsylvania models are very basic in their requirements, with little detail about information required or how it will be judged.
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects energy projects to make decisions that advance “the public good,” as is required of many regulatory authorities. Having thresholds of positive or negative effects may make regulatory decisions easier to defend from criticism, but specification of such thresholds can inhibit regulators from weighing a complex suite of factors to make a combined index of how much a particular project advances the public good. Tools from multicriteria decision making (e.g., Hammond et al. 2002) can help structure this process by representing preferences for possible outcomes and weighting various decision criteria in numerical form. However, the assessment of those weights and preferences are expressions of value, raising the critical question of whose values should inform decisions about the public good. Some argue that citizens have authorized regulatory bodies, such as utilities commissions, to represent public values taken as a whole. Others argue that only through participatory processes, including negotiation of regulatory rules, or through overtly political processes, such as public forums, can the diverse values of different constituencies be expressed. Public involvement in areas affected by wind-energy proposals is one mechanism for eliciting that diversity of values, but the complex task of combining them into a single decision remains with the regulatory authority. There are, similarly, pros and cons to more versus less formal review processes. On the formal end of the spectrum, quasi-judicial processes have such merits as producing written records of deliberations, prescribing who can speak in what capacities during hearings, providing opportunities to cross-examine expert witnesses and challenge evidence, and requiring authorities to respond to public comments to indicate how an issue has been addressed. These merits are, to some extent, offset by constraints on who may qualify to participate in hearings and what roles they can play. In addition, more formal processes, although providing a basis for appeal when parties question a decision, may solidify conflicting views and inhibit the more creative give-and-take that can sometimes help resolve contentious issues. Assuring Long-Term Project-Permit Compliance Post-construction monitoring for compliance with permit conditions is a critical part of the regulatory process. It is needed to ensure that projects are built according to approved plans and that required post-construction studies and mitigation measures are being carried out properly. Full access to project sites is needed for those charged with conducting studies or monitoring activities. Access has been problematic in the past. For example, access to the Mountaineer Project in West Virginia to conduct studies of bird and bat fatalities was discontinued by the project owner (E. Arnett, Bat Conservation International, personal communication 2005).
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects The application for the proposed Jack Mountain/Liberty Gap project was dismissed without prejudice (i.e., the application could be resubmitted) by the West Virginia Public Service Commission because the applicant refused to allow access to the property for hydrological studies (WVPSC 2006b). Well-defined processes for addressing post-construction monitoring and potential permit violations are needed at both local and state levels. Public confidence in facility compliance would be enhanced if site operators designated an accessible contact person who could respond to inquiries or complaints. In addition to monitoring for adverse environmental effects, including adverse socioeconomic effects, documenting the energy benefits of wind-energy facilities over the lifespan of the installation also is important. For this purpose, data on electricity generated, which must be reported monthly to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency for electricity-generating plants of 1 MW or greater, should be more easily accessible by the public than they currently are on the agency’s web site. To ensure long-term compliance with monitoring, mitigation, and reporting requirements, commitments made by the initial site developer should be passed to subsequent operators of the site, including those responsible for maintaining, refurbishing, or re-powering during the project’s lifetime, and decommissioning after its lifetime. To ensure transparency, state public-service commissions, with the corresponding state environmental or natural-resources offices, could evaluate pre- and post-construction monitoring as part of the permitting process. Proactive Planning and Evaluation of Cumulative Effects The positive and negative cumulative effects of wind-energy development across space and over time generally receive little attention in current regulatory-review processes, although developers have sometimes been asked to provide information about cumulative effects (e.g., Highland New Wind Development in Virginia [VADEQ 2006]). As the Vermont Commission on Wind Energy Regulatory Policy (2004) noted, broader review may facilitate better consideration of cumulative effects than strictly local review. In addition, wind turbines can be large in relation to natural landscape features, extending their effects (e.g., visual impact) beyond the boundaries of the municipality where the turbine itself is located. Broader review would capture effects that extend beyond local jurisdictions. Consideration of cumulative effects would be facilitated by more proactive planning for wind-energy development at scales ranging from national to regional between or within states. Resistance to centralized planning and devotion to private-property rights and individual autonomy in the United States may rule out the type of integrated planning and regulation that northern European countries and Australia have pursued. Nevertheless,
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects there is room in the United States for better integration of these functions to the benefit of wind-energy developers and for protection of the public good. It is a waste of private and public resources when developers invest in projects that cannot be sited successfully. Planning at state and local levels works with regulatory review to direct wind-energy development to locations and site designs that minimize adverse effects. Clear planning documents set the stage for predictable and defensible review actions. There often are thresholds for project or turbine size, below which regulatory scrutiny either is not required or is much reduced. If several small projects are installed in a small area, their effects could accumulate without the benefit of regulatory review. For example, several individual businesses or farms may install small turbines, on the order of 40 kW. Although a single turbine meeting relevant construction and zoning requirements might have little effect on local wildlife, aesthetics, and cultural resources, several of them might have significant effects, but they would not be regulated. This is a gap in current regulatory policy. Improving the Quality of Review Evaluating the merits and drawbacks of wind-energy proposals strains the resources of regulatory authorities in state utilities commissions and even more in local governments. Although experience is accumulating, wind energy still is new and unfamiliar. Local decision authorities are unlikely to learn by experience very rapidly because they see relatively few wind-energy proposals. Regulatory guidelines, both from nationwide efforts (e.g., NWCC 2002) and state-level efforts (e.g., KSREWG 2003; KSEC 2004), are one form of assistance to state and local decision makers. Many states, including California, Colorado, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and states in the Great Lakes Region, have sponsored or established wind-energy working groups, bringing together stakeholders such as environmental groups, industry, academia, and state agencies to set goals and guidelines for wind-energy development. In some states, efforts such as Maryland’s Wind Power Technical Advisory Group help fill technical gaps at the local level (MD Windpower TAG 2006). In Vermont, the state utilities board can hire independent experts at the expense of the developer to assist the state in its review (Vermont Commission on Wind Energy Regulatory Policy 2004). Similar assistance would be even more beneficial to local decision makers. FRAMEWORK FOR REVIEWING WIND-ENERGY PROPOSALS Part of the committee’s charge was to develop an analytical framework for reviewing environmental and socioeconomic effects of wind-energy
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects proposals. Ideally, this framework would (1) detail not only the types of effects to be considered, but also how those effects are to be evaluated as desirable or undesirable and how positive and negative effects are to be weighed in an overall assessment of a particular proposal; (2) address wind-energy development across a range of spatial and temporal scales; (3) integrate technical information on wind-energy effects with expressions of relevant public values; and (4) enable comparisons of wind-energy projects with other forms of electricity production. We have stopped short of this ideal for several reasons. Although in theory it seems sensible to weigh the comparative environmental performance of different electricity sources, in practice the generally piecemeal nature of U.S. policy making and regulation offers few opportunities for such comparisons. Energy policies (expressed through such means as tax credits and other financial incentives) usually are the result of considering particular energy sources by themselves rather than the result of weighing the advantages and disadvantages of different energy sources. Regulatory review of energy facilities almost always is a yes/no judgment on a single proposal (perhaps with modifications or conditions imposed), not a comparative judgment of the merits of different energy sources, sites, or facility designs. There is little planning that addresses particular mixes of energy sources, particular sites for wind-energy development, or particular designs for wind-energy facilities. Even if such planning were done, it would have limited impact on proposed wind-energy facilities and their approval, because proposals usually arise one at a time. The review of individual proposals usually is quite limited in scope, both temporally and spatially, with little opportunity for a full life-cycle analysis or for consideration of effects that accumulate across space and time. In addition, the U.S. system, with its private ownership of most energy facilities and with its prevailing emphasis on markets as the best arbiters of balancing the costs and benefits of energy projects, offers few opportunities for thorough public deliberation on the full spectrum of positive and negative effects of a particular energy facility. At present, if a proposed project meets regulatory requirements (which generally do not include a comprehensive balancing of positive and negative effects), it usually must be approved. Setting regulatory thresholds (e.g., for noise, number of birds killed, visibility) implies that some tradeoffs among costs and benefits are addressed, but even if the tradeoffs are addressed, it usually is not in a transparent and comprehensive way. Instead, these implicit tradeoffs evolve more or less invisibly as projects are proposed, reviewed, modified, and implemented. Eventually, this evolution may result in changes to regulatory processes and standards, but even then, the weighing of tradeoffs does not necessarily become transparent. There is, moreover, currently no social consensus on how the advan-
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects tages and disadvantages of wind-energy projects should be traded off or whose value systems should prevail in making such judgments. Instead, these decisions usually take place through a combination of citizen participation, political advocacy, and regulatory decision making. As discussed earlier in this chapter, both predictable but also more rigid regulatory-review procedures, and less predictable but also more flexible procedures, have their advantages. In addition, maintaining the flexibility to tailor the intensity of regulatory review to the complexity and controversy associated with particular wind-energy proposals makes more efficient use of society’s resources than a “one size fits all” process that does not provide opportunities for exceptions. For all of these reasons, we focus our efforts on incrementally improving the way wind-energy decisions are made today. We offer an evaluation guide that aids vertical coordination of regulatory review by various levels of government and helps to ensure that regulatory reviews are well grounded procedurally and evaluate the many facets of the human and non-human environment that may be affected by wind-energy development. Coordinating Levels of Governmental Responsibility To assist those responsible for planning and regulating wind-energy development and to facilitate the coordination of their work, we suggest using a two-dimensional matrix of jurisdictional levels and areas of responsibility. Jurisdictional levels range in scale from international (occasionally) and national to regional, state, and local. Areas of responsibility include formulation and execution of policy, planning, and public relations; legal and regulatory activities; and impact evaluation. In Figure 5-1, these two dimensions are displayed as a matrix. The details of how this matrix is filled out will vary from state to state, and to a lesser extent, from project to project. Nonetheless, using the matrix and considering each of its cells will help to ensure that important elements of governmental responsibilities have not been overlooked and that review efforts are well coordinated across geographic areas and jurisdictional levels. Once the respective responsibilities of the various jurisdictions are clearly identified and articulated, a checklist of questions like those in Box 5-4 below can serve as a template for evaluation. Evaluation Guide The evaluation guide presented here represents a step toward a realistic, workable framework for reviewing proposed and evaluating existing wind-energy projects. If this guide is followed and adequately documented, the results will provide a basis not only for evaluating an individual wind-
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects FIGURE 5-1 Matrix for organizing review of wind-energy projects energy project, but also for comparing two or more proposed projects and for undertaking an assessment of cumulative effects of existing and proposed facilities. In addition, following this guide may facilitate rational documentation of the most important areas for research. The guide first addresses procedural considerations—policy, planning, and public relations—and relevant laws and regulations. It then addresses the main potential effects of wind-energy facilities, organizing them into six categories drawn from Chapters 3 and 4: (1) impacts on the environment, (2) impacts on human health and well-being, (3) aesthetic impacts, (4) cultural impacts, (5) economic and fiscal impacts, and (6) electromagnetic interference. A seventh cross-cutting category concerning cumulative impacts is added. All these potential effects should be considered also in light of the benefits of any proposed project, including environmental benefits. The guide (Box 5-4) is presented as sets of questions to aid evaluation at various jurisdictional levels. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The committee concludes that a country as large and as geographically diverse as the United States, and as wedded to political plurality and private enterprise, is unlikely to plan for wind energy at a national scale in the same way as some other countries are doing. Nevertheless, national-level energy policies (implemented through mechanisms such as incentives, subsidies, research agendas, and federal regulations and guidelines) to enhance the benefits of wind energy while minimizing negative impacts would help in planning and regulating wind-energy development at smaller scales. Uncertainty about what policy tools will be in force hampers proactive planning for wind development. More specific conclusions and recommendations follow.
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects BOX 5-4 Guide for Evaluating Wind-Energy Projects Policy, Planning, and Public Relations Are the relevant energy policies and planning processes clearly defined at all jurisdictional levels, and are they coordinated and aligned among federal, state, and local levels? Are national-level energy policies available and being used? Are well-reasoned planning documents available to make regulatory-review actions predictable and defensible? Have mechanisms been established to provide necessary information to interested and affected parties, and to seek meaningful input from them as wind-energy projects are planned and implemented? Are developers required to provide early notification of their intent to develop wind energy? Are procedures—including policies and regulations—in place for evaluating the impacts of wind-energy projects that cross jurisdictional boundaries, especially for those that involve more than one state? Is guidance available to developers, regulators, and the public about what kinds of information are needed for review, what degrees of adverse and beneficial effects of proposed wind-energy developments should be considered critical in evaluating a proposed project, and how competing costs and benefits of a proposed project should be weighed with regard to that proposal only, or by comparison with likely alternatives? Are there mechanisms in place through which interested parties can obtain the pertinent available information? Are regional planning documents available that provide guidance on the quality of wind resources, capacity of transmission options, potential markets, major areas of concern, and tradeoffs that should be considered? Legal and Regulatory Considerations Are wind-energy guidelines and regulations issued by different federal agencies compatible, are those guidelines and regulations aligned with other federal regulating rules and regulations, and do the guidelines and regulations follow acceptable scientific principles when establishing data requirements? Does the review process include steps that explicitly address the cumulative impacts of wind-energy projects over space and time; that is, by reviewing each new project in the context of other existing and planned projects in the region? Evaluation of Impacts General Are the biological, aesthetic, cultural, and socioeconomic attributes of the region sufficiently well known to allow an accurate assessment of the environmental impacts of the wind-energy project, and to distinguish among the potential sites considered during the site-selection process? Are there species, habitats, recreational areas, or cultural sites of special interest or concern that will be affected by the project? How will this descriptive information be collected, who will judge its quality and reliability, and how will the information be shared with stakeholders? Are there key gaps in the needed information that should be addressed with further research before a project is approved or to guide the operation of an approved project?
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects Environmental Impacts What environmental mitigation measures will be taken and how will their effectiveness be measured? Are there any legal requirements for such measures (e.g., habitat conservation plans)? Are any listed species at risk from the proposed facility? How and by whom will the environmental impacts be evaluated once the project is in operation? If these evaluations indicate needed changes in the operation of the facility, how will such a decision be made and how will their implementation be assured? What pre-siting studies for site selection and pre-construction studies for impact assessment and mitigation planning are required? What post-construction studies, with appropriate controls, are required to evaluate impacts, modify mitigation if needed, and improve future planning? Impacts on Human Health and Well-Being Have pre-construction noise surveys been conducted to determine the background noise levels? Will technical assessments of the operational noise levels be conducted? Is there an established process to resolve complaints from the operation of the turbines? Is there a process in place to address complaints of shadow flicker and does the operator use the best software programs to minimize any flicker? Aesthetic Impacts Has the project planning involved professional assessment of potential visual impacts, using established techniques such as those recommended by the U.S. Forest Service or U.S. Bureau of Land Management? How have the public and the locally affected inhabitants been involved in evaluating the potential aesthetic and visual impacts? Cultural Impacts Has there been expert consideration of the possible impacts of the project on recreational opportunities and on historical, sacred, and archeological sites? Economic and Fiscal Impacts Have the direct economic impacts of the project been accurately evaluated, including the types and pay scales of the jobs produced during the construction and operational phases, the taxes that will be produced, and costs to the public? Has there been a careful explication of the indirect economic costs and benefits, including opportunity costs and the distribution of monetary and non-monetary benefits and costs? Are the guarantees and mitigation measures designed to fit the project and address the interests of the community members and the local jurisdictions? Electromagnetic Interference Has the developer assessed the possibility of radio, television, and radar interference? Cumulative Effects How will cumulative effects be assessed, and what will be included in that assessment (i.e., the effects only of other wind-energy installations, or of all other electricity generators, or of all other anthropogenic impacts on the area)? Have the spatial and temporal scales of the cumulative-effects assessment been specified?
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects Conclusion Because wind energy is new to many state and local governments, the quality of decisions to permit wind-energy developments is uneven in many respects. Recommendation Guidance on planning for wind energy and on data requirements and on procedures for reviewing wind-energy proposals should be developed. In addition, technical assistance with gathering and interpreting information needed for decision making should be provided. This guidance and technical assistance, conducted at appropriate jurisdictional levels, could be developed by working groups composed of wind-energy developers, non-governmental organizations with diverse views of wind-energy development, and local, state, and federal government agencies. Conclusion There is little anticipatory planning for wind-energy projects, and it is not clear whether mechanisms currently exist that could incorporate such planning in regulatory decisions even if such planning occurred. Recommendation Regulatory reviews of individual wind-energy projects should be preceded by coordinated, anticipatory planning whenever possible. Such planning for wind-energy development coordinated with regulatory review of wind-energy proposals would benefit developers, regulators, and the public because it would prompt developers to focus proposals on locations and site designs most likely to be successful. This planning could be implemented at scales ranging from state and regional levels to local levels. Anticipatory planning for wind-energy development also would help researchers target their efforts where they will be most informative for future wind-development decisions. Conclusion Choosing the level of regulatory authority for reviewing wind-energy proposals carries corresponding implications for how the following issues are addressed: Cumulative effects of wind-energy development.
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects Balancing negative and positive environmental and socioeconomic impacts of wind energy. Incorporating public opinions into the review process. Recommendation In choosing the levels of regulatory review of wind-energy projects, agencies should review the implication of those choices to all three issues listed above. Decisions about the level of regulatory review should include procedures for ameliorating the disadvantages of a particular choice (e.g., enhancing opportunities for local participation in state-level reviews). Conclusion Well-specified, formal procedures for regulatory review enhance predictability, consistency, and accountability for all parties to wind-energy development. However, flexibility and informality also have advantages, such as matching the time and effort expended on review to the complexity and controversy associated with a particular proposal; tailoring decision criteria to the ecological and social contexts of a particular proposal; and fostering creative interactions among developers, regulators, and the public to find solutions to wind-energy dilemmas. Recommendation When consideration is given to formalizing review procedures and specifying thresholds for decision criteria, this consideration should include attention to ways of retaining the advantages of more flexible procedures. Conclusion Using an evaluation guide to organize regulatory review processes— such as the guide we have provided here—can help achieve comprehensive and consistent regulation, coordinated across jurisdictional levels and across types of effects. Recommendation Regulatory agencies should adopt and routinely use an evaluation guide in their reviews of wind-energy projects. The guide should be available to developers and the public.
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects Conclusion The environmental benefits of wind energy, mainly reductions in atmospheric pollutants, are enjoyed at wide spatial scales, while the environmental costs, mainly aesthetic impacts and ecological impacts such as increased mortality of birds and bats, occur at much smaller spatial scales. There are similar, if less dramatic, disparities in the scales of occurrence of economic and other societal benefits and costs. The disparities in scale, while not unique to wind energy, complicate the evaluation of tradeoffs. Recommendation Representatives of federal, state, and local governments should work with wind-energy developers, non-governmental organizations, and other interest groups and experts to develop guidelines for addressing tradeoffs between benefits and costs of wind-energy generation of electricity that occur at widely different scales, including life-cycle effects.
Representative terms from entire chapter: