Monday, September 28, 2009

Revision of USFWS Guidelines for Wind Power Projects

In 2003 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published interim voluntary guidelines on the siting and development of wind power projects. The wind industry and conservationists agree that proper siting of industrial wind power projects is critical to reduce risks to birds, so vigorous guidelines are very important.

The apparent intention of the USFWS was to make the guidelines permanent in 2005 after a two-year review. Instead, however, the USFWS entered into an extended review process of the guidelines that involved the creation of a Federal Advisory Committee (FAC). A number of organizations have pointed out problems with the makeup of that FAC. Problems include concerns that the wind industry is too heavily represented on the FAC and that there are significant gaps in the committee’s representation from conservation and scientific organizations: notably, no raptor experts and under-representation of experts especially qualified to deal with avian issues in the eastern U.S.

The FAC wraps up its work next month with a more than 50 page document rewriting the guidelines. There are a number of problems with the current draft of that document: chief among those problems is that in their excessive detail the guidelines as proposed may have become inaccessible to local governments who in many instances are the final decision makers about whether a project is provided the necessary permits to proceed.

The original guidelines were pretty clear and specific, something local decision makers could grasp without a lot of coaching from consultants: those original guidelines quite simply required that developers of industrial wind energy projects avoid known bird migration pathways and daily movement flyways, avoid features of the landscape know to attract raptors (such as ridgelines and coastlines), avoid areas formally designated as Important Bird Areas and avoid documented locations of any species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. This clarity and relative lack of ambiguity is lost in the details and verbiage of the rewrite.

Despite the level of detail in the current draft of the guidelines revision, the revision’s recommendations regarding studies to determine raptor use of proposed project areas, and subsequently the likely risk to raptors, promulgate investigations entirely lacking in appropriate rigor.

HMANA has expressed formally its concerns about the revisions of the guidelines to the USFWS and the FAC on several occasions. Now that the process is winding to a close, HMANA will continue to monitor the proposed guidelines and will comment extensively to the USFWS and the Department of the Interior in hopes that the original and fairly robust 2003 guidelines are not entirely sapped of their effectiveness.

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