Monday, February 28, 2011
Fish and Wildlife Service Hopes to Prevent Bird-Wind Turbine Collisions
The Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed voluntary guidelines on how to avoid death of birds by wind turbines. With the current focus on green energy, the Department of the Interior is attempting to consolidate and clarify wind siting regulations. For years bird advocates have been arguing that wind turbines could kill up to one million birds a year if wind energy goes on to produce 20% of America’s energy.
In July 2003, the Service proposed voluntary, temporary guidelines for land-based wind energy projects to assist developers in avoiding or minimizing effects on fish, wildlife, and their habitats. The proposals were open for a two-year public comment period and then reviewed by the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory to make recommendations for the final guidelines. After two years of work, the Committee submitted their final recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior in March 2010. The Service then created a working group comprising of several Service program representatives to review the recommendations and develop the guidelines.
The two final guidelines were published in the Federal Register this week. The first is Draft Voluntary, Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines which provides guidance for developers on how to avoid and minimize impacts to birds and bats. The guidelines discuss topics ranging from the length of research to noise to mitigate the adverse effects that should be considered when proposing land-based wind projects. The second proposal is the Draft Eagle conservation Plan Guidance to on how to determine the impact on eagles and how to apply the permit regulations in the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Service explained that these regulations are designed to promote the Department of the Interior’s efforts to improve siting of renewable energy. They will be open for public comment, via mail or email until May 19, 2011.
The guidelines are a set in the right direction for renewable energy, especially wind energy. Wind energy developers have consistently complained about a lack of unified standards across the states and federal agencies. Proposals like this are helpful in providing that uniformity. Also the guidelines provide assurance and lower risk because developers will know that if they follow the guidelines, they will face a decreased risk of opposition. These two consequences will spur on development of wind energy.
There are a few problems with the proposed regulation. A potential problem is that the guidelines are only in regard to land-based wind energy and substantial off-shore wind energy is necessary if wind will become a significant provider of America’s energy. Although this may later be used as a starting point for off-shore wind power, it will have zero impact on the developments currently underway. A second problem is that these regulations are only voluntary. So although, in the long run they may help developers get their projects approved, developers are probably not going to follow them if it will add substantial time or cost to the project. Wind projects have been permitted for years without these regulations and will continue to do so if they are not required.
A final problem I foresee with the regulation is that the “tiered approach” to quantifying the risks may focus too much on the numbers. The guidelines explain how to numerically quantify the risks to fish, wildlife, and their habitats and then how to evaluate those numbers. Since it will become a numbers game, my fear is developers and federal permitting bodies will only seek to ensure that the numbers are within the guidelines without really considering the impact on the animals. Ultimately, these guidelines provide direction in a very unregulated and confusing field. Any sort of regulations will only increase stability and efficiency in the field leading developers to create more renewable energy projects.
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