On March 23, 2012, the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), working with the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee, released guidelines designed to help wind energy project developers avoid and minimize impacts of land-based wind projects on wildlife and their habitats. These voluntary Guidelines, which take effect immediately, are designed to provide Best Management Practices for site development, construction, retrof itting, repowering, and decommissioning for wind projects across the country.

A signif icant portion of the Guidelines is dedicated to providing advice to developers regarding the identification of species of concern that may potentially be affected by the proposed project, as well as the potential impacts that the project may have on those species, including:

  • Collisions with wind turbines and associated infrastructure; loss and degradation of habitat from turbines and infrastructure;
  • Fragmentation of large habitat blocks into smaller segments that may not support sensitive species;
  • Displacement and behavioral changes; and indirect effects such as increased predator populations or introduction of invasive plants.
  • Additionally, the Guidelines recommend a “tiered approach” for assessing potential impact of a wind project on species of concern and their habitats.

As described in the Guidelines:

“The tiered approach is an iterative decision-making process for collecting information in increasing detail; quantifying the possible risks of proposed wind energy projects to species of concern and habitats; and evaluating those risks to make siting, construction, and operation decisions. [ … ] Brief ly, the tiers address:

  • Tier 1 – Preliminary site evaluation (landscape-scale screening of possible project sites)
  • Tier 2 – Site characterization (broad characterization of one or more potential project sites)
  • Tier 3 – Field studies to document site wildlife and habitat and predict project impacts
  • Tier 4 – Post-construction studies to estimate impacts
  • Tier 5 – Other post-construction studies and research”

Under the Guidelines, developers will work with the Service to identify, avoid and minimize risks to species of concern during the pre-construction phases of the project (Tiers 1, 2, and 3), and then assess the effectiveness of those conservation measures and take additional actions as necessary during post-construction phases (Tiers 4 and 5).

Though adherence to the Guidelines is voluntary and does not relieve any individual, company, or agency of the responsibility to comply with laws and regulations, adherence may be benef icial to developers if a violation occurs. FWS is permitted to take a developer’s action to comply with the Guidelines into consideration when determining whether a violation has occurred, as well as the severity of any penalties.

A copy of the Guidelines is available on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website. Additional information on these Guidelines can be found in the cover article drafted by Alan C. Anderson and Luke Hagedorn for the September issue of Windpower Engineering and Development.