Wind industry working to meet wildlife challenges

A huge challenge facing wind developers is how to co-exist with wildlife—and with the laws, regulations and permitting procedures that have been developed to protect it.

Two developments last week suggest different approaches for meeting that challenge. First was the Interior Department’s decision not to place the sage grouse on the endangered species list at this time. The second was the finalization of recommendations from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Federal Advisory Committee, a government-industry-environmentalist collaboration that for three years has been drafting guidelines aimed at facilitating wind energy development while still protecting wildlife.

Interior Secretary Salazar’s decision not to list the sage grouse as an endangered species leaves the bird’s protection to the states for now. In the state of Wyoming, one of the states where the bird is found, so-called core areas designated by the state will remain off limits to development, including wind, to protect the sage grouse and their habitat.

The problem with the Wyoming approach is that it is not based on extensive information about how wind projects impact sage grouse. “We don’t have the information about how wind affects sage grouse,” says Laurie Jodziewicz, AWEA’s manager of siting policy. “And we have little opportunity to do research because you can’t build in the core areas.” She said wind developers will be working with state officials to explore possible changes in the current state policies.

The FAC guidelines, which are being forwarded to Salazar for his approval, take a different approach. The representatives of the wind industry, wildlife groups and the Fish and Wildlife Service developed a “tiered” approach to development. That means developers will choose an area for possible development, assess the potential wildlife conflicts, and, if they still wish to develop it, propose a series of measures to limit the impact on wildlife.

The guidelines also call for monitoring the impact during construction and after construction to make sure the impacts are in line with what was predicted before the project was built.

“The guidelines borrow from the practices large developers have already adopted when they make siting decisions, and put it in a format that everyone can use,” said Jodziewicz.

Wind developers know they have formidable obstacles to surmount, especially in the Western states, before they can develop in areas with wildlife concerns. But they are hoping that by getting out in front of the issue, and working with wildlife groups and government officials now, they can maximize their chances of success.

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