Developers commit to wildlife protection guidelines, but critics remain

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2012

The wind-power industry is fully backing voluntary federal guidelines aimed at siting and operating wind farms in ways that minimize impacts to birds, bats and wildlife habitat.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and 40 wind-power companies this week sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pledging to adhere to the guidelines, which were developed over a five-year period by a Fish and Wildlife Service advisory committee that included industry officials, conservation leaders, representatives of American Indian tribes, and federal and state regulators.

Salazar unveiled the new guidelines in late March, calling them a common-sense road map for steering wind projects away from places where they would have an outsized impact on wildlife and providing developers certainty and flexibility (Greenwire, March 23).

The guidelines, which took effect in March, encourage wind developers to consult with FWS as early as possible to allow biologists to assess a project’s potential impacts. They call for developers to work with the agency to analyze potential project effects on migratory birds, bats, eagles and other species from collisions with turbines; habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation; wildlife displacement and behavioral changes; and increased predators and invasive plants.

“AWEA and its member companies hope that through proper implementation, we and the other stakeholders will be able to collectively ensure that wildlife is adequately protected, while we create an environment in which robust development of U.S. wind energy can continue for years to come,” Denise Bode, the national trade association’s CEO, said today in a statement.

In addition to AWEA, the two-page letter sent yesterday to Salazar was signed by 40 wind-power developers, including Iberdrola Renewables LLC, BP Wind Energy and Pattern Energy, whose Ocotillo Express Wind Energy Facility is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed this week by an American Indian tribe that says the project would destroy “culturally and visually significant lands and resources” (Greenwire, May 15).

In the letter, the companies state their support for the guidelines, and AWEA “commits to training its members on the Guidelines and urging adherence to them.”

“We should collectively be proud of the process that resulted in the development of these important siting guidelines, which hold this industry to a higher standard than is legally required and to a higher standard than any other energy industry in the country,” the letter said. “It is important to note that while no stakeholder got everything they wanted in the final version of the Guidelines, we believe they were developed through a fair and transparent process that resulted in a document that addresses the interests of all parties.”

The National Audubon Society, which participated in the FWS advisory committee meetings that helped devise the voluntary measures, praised the industry for its support.

“The pioneering collaboration that forged these first-ever federal guidelines proves industry and environmental groups can collaborate to benefit both the nation’s economy and our birds and wildlife,” David Yarnold, Audubon’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “It doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition.”

But not everyone supports the guidelines.

The American Bird Conservancy, which has been sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policies regarding birds and wind energy development, says the voluntary guidelines cannot be enforced and therefore have no practical impact on protecting the birds killed each year by spinning wind turbine blades and associated power lines and other structures.

“Nearly 175 conservation groups, scientific organizations and businesses are on record preferring mandatory standards rather than voluntary guidelines for wind energy,” said Kelly Fuller, ABC’s wind campaign coordinator. “ABC is concerned that the guidelines allow wind developers to self-certify compliance and to disregard [FWS's] suggestions simply by documenting reasons why they don’t agree with them.”

Fuller added, “Birds will be the losers with these guidelines.”