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.

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