Interior finalizes wildlife-protection guidelines for wind projects

Source: Laura Petersen, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, March 26, 2012

The Interior Department released voluntary guidelines for wind energy developers today aimed at limiting bird kills and minimizing other damage to natural resources.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the “common sense” guidelines should steer wind projects away from places where they would have an outsized impact on wildlife and provide developers certainty and flexibility.

The guidelines — which take effect immediately — encourage wind developers to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service as early as possible to allow biologists to assess a project’s potential impacts, agency officials said.

Developers will work with the agency to analyze potential project impacts on migratory birds, bats, eagles and other species, such as bird collisions with turbines; habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation; wildlife displacement and behavioral changes; and increased predators and invasive plants.

While the guidelines are voluntary, there are incentives to follow them, Fish and Wildlife Service officials said.

If developers “in good faith follow the guidelines, we’re going to be looking other places for our law enforcement efforts,” FWS Director Dan Ashe said in a news briefing.

Laws protecting migratory birds and endangered species will still apply to wind projects, but developers that cooperate with the service will be a low priority for enforcement when turbines kill birds, Ashe said.

If there is a significant problem, he added, the service will work with the developer on a mitigation plan.

The final guidelines, which replace an interim set issued in 2003, were written over the past five years with the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee, whose members represent federal and state agencies, tribes, the wind industry and conservation groups. The service received more than 30,000 public comments on draft guidelines released in February 2011.

The agency has endeavored to tweak the guidelines to allay concerns raised by the wind industry and environmental groups (E&ENews PM, Sept. 14, 2011).

“We have groups like the Audubon Society and the American Wind Energy Association endorsing these guidelines,” Salazar said. “When you have the conservation community and the wind industry saying, ‘This is the way to go,’ it is at testament to the wisdom we see in these guidelines.”

The wind industry’s top trade group praised the guidelines in a statement. “It is our hope that in conjunction with rapid training and sensible implementation, the guidelines will promote improved siting practices and increased wildlife protection that in turn will foster the continued rapid growth of wind energy across the nation,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.

The National Audubon Society also released a statement, calling the guidelines a “game changer.”

“By collaborating with conservationists instead of slugging it out, the wind power industry gains vital support to expand and create jobs, and wildlife gets the protection crucial for survival,” said David Yarnold, the group’s president and CEO.

But not everyone is on board. The American Bird Conservancy repeated its criticism that voluntary guidelines are unenforceable and will result in more bird deaths.

“We’ve had voluntary guidelines since 2003 and they haven’t worked,” said Kelly Fuller, the wind campaign coordinator for the conservancy. “The service — all they can do is say, ‘Please don’t.’ There is nothing in these guidelines to stop bad projects from going forward.”

Click here to read the voluntary guidelines.