Posted on December 7, 2010 by Linda Bochert
WDNR has issued “Siting Guidelines” available here to help wind project developers site projects in ways that minimize impacts and will be revising its current “Bird and Bat Study Guidelines” to provide more comprehensive information.
The WDNR report was submitted in response to 2009 Wisconsin Act 40, which required the agency to determine if its “statutory authority is sufficient to adequately protect wildlife and the environment from any adverse effect from the siting, construction, or operation of wind energy systems.”
WDNR’s legislative agenda is in development. Whether the legislature will take up these recommendations is currently unknown. While WDNR’s interest in more comprehensive authority is consistent with its view of its responsibilities, the risk for project proponents and developers is that it will create new grounds for project opponents to rely on to challenge siting decisions. For many the goal of alternative energy sources — solar, wind, biomass — is still only desirable when it isn’t in their backyard.
In response to a legislative directive, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) in November submitted a report to the Wisconsin Legislature making four recommendations to enhance its authority to protect wildlife and natural resources from wind project impacts:
- require WDNR to prepare a formal “biological opinion” and require the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) to consider that opinion before PSCW approves a wind project; this opinion would 1) describe the potential impacts of the project to wildlife and natural resources; 2) identify potential conflicts with wildlife protection laws; 3) reach a conclusion as to whether the project has the potential to cause a significant adverse impact to habitat and fish and wildlife resources; and 4) reach a conclusion as to whether mitigation measures can be implemented to substantially reduce those impacts below the level of significance;
- require a wind project developer to obtain Incidental Take Permits or Authorizations under the Wisconsin Endangered Species Law (Wis. Stat. s. 29.604) before constructing a wind project; currently, developers are encouraged but not required to obtain such authorizations;
- expand the Wisconsin Endangered Species Law to protect endangered and threatened species habitat, to mirror the federal Endangered Species Act; currently, Wisconsin law only protects habitat if a direct take of a species will occur and an Incidental Take Permit or Authorization is required; and
- require easements for wind facilities to authorize access to those properties for the conduct of biological studies by developers, WDNR personnel and/or authorized agents.
These recommendations reflect WDNR’s view that its standard regulatory authorities over wetland and waterway impacts don’t reach the agency’s growing concerns about protecting wildlife and habitat from turbine siting and operation. Current WDNR authority addresses impacts to waterways and wetlands from project construction, and obligates developers to implement construction site erosion control. Threatened and endangered species are protected from intentional and incidental “takes”. WDNR has implemented this authority through consultation and use of general Incidental Take Permits and Authorizations. Violations of general wildlife protection laws (Wis. Stat. ss. 23.095(1g), 29.011(1) and 29.039) are subject to enforcement, but are limited to intentional taking by unlawful activities, and WDNR does not consider them generally applicable to construction or operation of state or locally approved wind projects.