The wind industry’s Atticus Finch By Chris Madison (AWEA)

DENVER – In many ways, American Wind Energy Association’s siting workshop was defined by someone who was not here. Several times during the two-day meeting, speakers began their presentation with a tribute to Andy Linehan, the siting specialist with Iberdrola Renewables who died recently. (They also flashed a picture on the huge screens in the hotel ballroom.)

Rich Rayhill of Ridgeline Energy called Linehan “the Atticus Finch of the wind power industry,” referring to the attorney-hero in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Linehan’s principled, straightforward approach to solving siting problems will shape how the industry deals with siting issues for years to come, Rayhill said.

Linehan’s approach was certainly evident in many of the sessions here, as speakers sketched out how the industry could deal with a wide range of siting issues, from radar, to endangered species, to wind farm’s impact on the “viewshed.” Gone are the days of toughing it out against opponents or ignoring their concerns until late in the game. Now the buzzwords are incidental take permits, habitat conservation plans, and conservation management systems.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” said to Jim Lindsay, Principal Biologist for FPL Energy. Michael Brennan, an attorney with Holland and Hart LLP, urged developers to understand the potential impacts of wind turbines on wildlife and have solutions in mind before approaching permitting agencies about a project. “You have to have the information in hand before you open that door,” he said.

Laurie Jodziewicz, AWEA’s manager of siting policy, said the changed attitude toward siting issues is reflected in the increasing significance and specialization of industry forums such as the siting workshop itself.

“The importance of this workshop is that it advances the continuing education of our members about these issues. Things are happening so quickly that even the experts have trouble keeping up. This is a forum where people can get the best information available,” she said.

“We’re growing and maturing as an industry. Now we have permitting managers and environmental specialists in the companies.”

Jodziewicz also noted that in addition to helping permitting managers get projects through the process, industry siting forums target those who look at these issues in a broader sense—those who are shaping how their companies should be handling these issues in the long term.”

That is something Andy Linehan would understand and applaud.

At siting workshop, information is the coin of the realm

What do you get when you put a handful of government officials on a workshop panel? Lots of information.

At AWEA’s Project Siting Workshop held this week here in Denver, more than 350 attendees learned, for example, about the Air Force’s willingness to work with the industry to resolve conflicts over the location of wind projects near Air Force facilities. Col. Ed Chupein, who is chief of ranges and airspace for the Air Force, said the military was caught unawares when the wind energy boom began several years ago. “We weren’t ready for this gold rush.” And despite a reputation for being against all wind projects, he said, “We do say yes,” especially when given advance notice of a proposed project, and time to consider the impacts.

Speakers from the Bureau of Land Management gave extensive details on the workings of the Renewable Energy Coordination offices established by Interior Secretary Salazar as well as the legal basis under which the federal government can regulate the impact of wind on “scenery.” At a Wyoming public workshop on wind, the impact of projects on scenery was a close second to concern about the impact on wildlife, he noted, with other issues such as noise and tourism impact way behind.

Although not a public official, Thomas King, a consultant, methodically explained how the Cape Wind project proposed for Nantucket Sound ran afoul of the concerns of two Indian tribes that said the turbines would block their view of sunrise over the sound, which they consider a sacred ritual. “Don’t fear the tribes and don’t fear Section 106,” he said, referring the provision of law used by the tribes to force the most recent review of the project, King said.

Later in the day, a panel of speakers including David Stout of the Fish and Wildlife Service provided a preview of the final recommendations of the Wind Turbine Federal Advisory Committee, which are likely to be released next month. The guidelines, which will be presented to Interior Secretary Salazar, will be voluntary, but because they are the product of an unusual consensus of the views of the wind industry, wildlife groups, and government officials, they are likely to be relied on by other permitting agencies around the country.

The guidelines will follow and codify industry practice, rather than impose a set of procedures on the industry. “The purpose of the guidelines is to promote responsible industry development and broaden our view of “landscape” that will benefit our industry,” said Rich Rayhill, a vice president of Ridgeline Energy LLC, a FAC member.

Members of the advisory committee are anxious to make the guidelines official and start figuring out how to use them to improve the siting process.“Two and half years of hard work is coming to an end,” Stout said.