“The wind energy industry has a long and proud history of environmental responsibility. In fact, the wind power industry has voluntarily agreed to hold itself to a higher standard for wildlife study, mitigation and protection than any other industry in the country,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. “Unfortunately, the USFWS proposals in their current form do not represent a reasonable balance between the important and complementary goals of wildlife conservation and deployment of non-polluting energy.”
The Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition also submitted comments today. The letter from the Coalition chairman, Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and the vice chair, Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa, states, “We support the responsible development of the nation’s energy resources, but we are concerned that the FWS’s proposed guidelines on land-based wind turbines development and eagle conservation guidance, if adopted, would put at risk many wind farm projects without achieving benefits beyond those available from previously developed guidelines.”
Draft Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines
With respect to the Draft Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines, besides the individual comments submitted by AWEA, joint comments were submitted by AWEA along with key conservation organizations, including Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Mass Audubon.
The thrust of the AWEA comments and the joint industry and NGO comments is a recommendation to return to the substance of the consensus recommendations of the USFWS Wind Turbine Guidelines Federal Advisory Committee (FAC). The FAC was created by the Department of the Interior and composed of wildlife conservation organizations, state wildlife agencies, and wind industry representatives, among others.
The FAC worked for over two-and-a-half years and submitted the resulting consensus recommendations to Secretary Salazar in March 2010.Unfortunately, the USFWS draft guidelines deviate significantly from the consensus FAC recommendations in key areas including the role of USFWS in the review process, the scope and duration of pre-and post-construction studies, and the scope of covered species and covered impacts, among others. In the draft guidelines, the USFWS does not offer any explanation for the changes nor does the agency explain what additional conservation benefit would be provided.
AWEA also raised questions about some of the science on which USFWS is relying and about the negative impact several of the recommendations would have on the ability to build wind energy projects, particularly given that the recommendations would come at a very high cost yet not yield any additional conservation benefit.
Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance
AWEA also submitted recommendations on the Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance.This guidance document builds on the 2009 Eagle Permit rule finalized by USFWS in order to provide “take” permits giving legal liability protection for projects that commit to efforts to avoid, minimize and mitigate for their impacts.
AWEA urged that USFWS re-open the 2009 permit rule to make the permit more closely mirror those available under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Currently, the eagle permit differs in key ways including being available for only five years with no guarantee of renewal; under the ESA, the permit is available for the life of the project. Additionally, USFWS can impose additional conditions on a project in the future, whereas the ESA provides “no surprise” assurances, meaning a recipient of a permit will not be asked in the future to commit to additional measures.
AWEA also commented on the draft guidance document and raised concerns and made recommendations on questionable legal interpretations that have resulted in an overly-stringent program, questionable science, and the duration and scope of studies, among other issues.
According to a survey of AWEA members, the USFWS draft policies jeopardize more than 34,000 megawatts of wind power projects, over 27,500 jobs, $103 million in potential landowner revenue, and $68 billion in investment.
“The USFWS missed an opportunity to capitalize on the consensus work of states, NGOs and the industry,” said John Anderson, AWEA’s director of siting policy. “AWEA strongly urges USFWS to reconsider the draft documents as they currently stand and work closely with stakeholders to achieve a more workable outcome for both wildlife and wind energy.”