UPPER THUMB – Best practices for creating wind developments in the Great Lakes region are identified in a report that’s been in the making for more than a year and was just released earlier this week.
The Great Lakes Wind Collaborative (GLWC) – which is a public/private coalition of interests advancing sustainable wind energy development within the Great Lakes region – released a new online guide outlining 18 best practices.
The group says the guide highlights policies and practices to “ensure wind development is environmentally protective, sensitive to community concerns and maximizes economic development potential,” according to a release GLWC issued Monday.
“The stakeholders of the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative are steadfast in their belief that the need for renewable energy in the region must be balanced with sound economics and protection of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem,” stated Terry Yonker, GLWC Steering Committee co-chair and president of Marine Services Diversified, LLC.
“The development of wind power requires us to utilize the best practices that are available to us to insure that what results meets the highest possible standards of acceptance.”
The best practices were identified through a year-long process that included a literature review, online survey and interviews under the guidance of a Great Lakes Wind Collaborative workgroup that included environmental groups, industry, academia, and federal, state and local government regulators, according to Monday’s release. The project was coordinated by the Great Lakes Commission, a compact of the eight Great Lakes states and the provinces of Ontario and Québec based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Each best practice includes a case study, highlighting what’s happened in other areas with wind developments. It’s interesting to note that the report cites Huron County as a case study for noise ordinances. The Huron County Building and Zoning Department is acknowledged in the report as a Best Practices Workgroup member.
The GLWC’s release notes while federal siting guidelines exist, ultimate decisions about whether and how a wind farm gets built are made at the state and local levels. The GLWC reports the best practices identified in the report released Monday include both those that have been tested and shown to be effective, as well as new practices identified by experts as needed for future wind developments.
The best practices are intended to provide guidance for regulators, researchers, and wind industry interests who can choose from a mix of policies and practices that best advance the development of responsible and clean Great Lakes wind energy within a given locality, state or region.
The guide is online at www.glc.org/energy/wind/bestpractices.html. The following highlights the 18 best practices included in the guide:
Best Practice #1: “Regulators should create balanced and transparent policies that are uniform throughout a state or region to help protect communities and the environment, while enabling developers to propose wind farms.”
All eight Great Lake states are considered home rule states, meaning local governments have the authority to create and enforce their own ordinances and zoning codes.
As a result, there are ordinances differ from one jurisdiction to another, which can cause problems when a wind project is spread over multiple units of governments because many ordinances will apply to the project.
For example, one jurisdiction may have no ordinance, whereas another may have an ordinance that’s so strict it makes siting wind developments effectively impossible. And while it’s fairly easy to site a wind farm in a jurisdiction that has no ordinance/regulation, it results in little protection for the environment or local results.
In order for a more even playing field, and to protect the environment and local residents, the GLWC recommends state or provincial governments implement the above best practice.
Best Practice #2: “Regulators should provide clear, consistent and well-designed financing mechanisms or financial incentives that assure developers they will be able to recoup costs in a competitive market.”
The GLWC notes high energy prices can act as a driver for creating and enhancing wind energy policies; however, the true costs of energy production often are not reflected in current energy prices, leading to imbalances in energy rates across sectors.
Until a price parity is achieved between renewable and fossil energy sources, methods to incentivize renewable energy sources will be necessary to cultivate renewable energy development.
The GLWC recommends policymakers and regulators employ financial incentives in ways that support local manufacturing of wind turbine components and wind installations; try to create a market pull for renewable energy in lieu of providing outright subsidies; or provide for recapture of public investments through, for example, a revolving loan fund.
The report states some other of the most promising examples include: Feed-in tariffs; tax credits; loan gaurantees; net metering; payment in lieu of property taxes; and Renewable Portfolio Standards (which mandate utilities generate or purchase a certain percent of its their total electricity from renewable sources).
Best Practice #3: Jurisdictions should maintain programs and increase state/provincial Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) targets over time.
Currently, RPS targets for all participating Great Lakes states cap out and end after a certain year, the latest of which is 2026. Michigan’s RPS mandates utilities get 10 percent of their energy from renewables by 2015.
Best Practice #4: “Regulators should implement transmission policies supporting the development and implementation of integrated resource planning and advanced grid management, consistent with federal and state/provincial legislative authority.”
Best Practice #5: “Strategically site wind developments to take advantage of existing transmission capabilities when possible and develop new electric transmission system infrastructure as needed to provide access to premier renewable energy.”
If the electrical grid’s maxed out, wind projects can’t be developed. The need for additional capacity on the grid and the amount of wind projects targeted in the area was the impetus behind ITCTransmission’s Thumb loop project.
Best Practices #6: “All environmental information generated through publicly funded sources to support project applications or develop environmental review documents should be made available on easily located web pages on the Internet.”
The GLWC notes availability information is not the same as accessibility. Information may be available – it may have been produced – but it may not be easily accessible (i.e. in a location that’s easy to find).
Making sure documents and related information about wind projects are available where people can easily find and access that information can significantly contribute to the overall public perception of a wind project.
“Communities are more likely to feel comfortable with a proposed development if they have easy access to information about the permitting and approval process,” according to the GLWC. “Direct links to project information from state and local agencies and developers’ web pages is one type of access. Having a staffed phone number to help people locate information online or in a public location can also make that information more accessible.”
An exception to this best practice would be information that would conflict with the proprietary financial interests of the project proponent or sensitive data (like specific locations of endangered or threatened species).
Best Practice #7: “Developers should maintain a high level of transparency, cultivate relationships with the surrounding communities and increase support for their projects by incorporating public involvement early in the planning process and continuing with public outreach throughout the life of a project.”
The GLWC notes ensuring ample opportunity for public outreach and engagement can improve public perception and even build support project. The GLWC recommends developers engage a third or objective party that does not stand to benefit from the project to help with or lead the public outreach. Doing so helps build credibility with local communities.
Best Practices #8: “As part of the public engagement process, developers should conduct a visual impact assessment.”
Concerns regarding the visual impacts of utility-scale wind energy facilities have emerged as important factors in public opposition to wind development projects. Assessing visual impacts can help distinguish between real and perceived visual impacts and discern the level of impact on sensitive visual resources.
The assessment should include spatially accurate and realistic photo simulations of wind turbines in the proposed location.
Best Practice #9: “Developers should use available noise models to assess noise impacts from wind energy projects. Similar to visual impact assessments, noise impact assessments should be conducted to effectively communicate to the public the extent of noise impacts throughout the landscape and community.”
The GLWC recommends the following measures to help projects meet local sound limits and address concerns of sensitive nearby residents:
• Site turbines beyond a minimum setback distance to all residential structures.
• Implement best management practices for noise abatement during construction.
• Limit the cutting/clearing of vegetation surrounding the proposed substation.
• Add landscape features to help screen specific sound receptors.
• Keep turbines in good running order throughout the operational life of the project.
• Notify landowners of certain construction noise impacts in advance.
• Pursue development agreements (leases/easements) with neighbors whose residence is located within a certain distance of a project.
• Implement a complaint resolution procedure to assure that any complaints regarding construction or operational noise are promptly and adequately investigated and resolved.
Best Practice #10: “Unease about the effects of new wind development on local and migrating wildlife can be a huge concern for the public, hence it is essential to identify and avoid areas where legally protected wildlife, such as threatened and endangered species, are present or potentially present, including known migration corridors and breeding areas for these species.”
Developers should consult with appropriate resource management agencies (i.e. federal, state and/or local) and reach out to local conservation groups and landowners to determine where there are environmental sensitivities such as valued landscapes, sensitive visual resource areas, natural communities, plant communities, wildlife habitat, cultural resources and other local concerns that can be used to inform the environmental assessment.
Best Practice #11: “Developers should create a site plan with sufficient detail to describe the nature and scope of the proposed project, the attributes of the specific location, as well as any potential issues or questions relating to the site chosen.”
Best Practice #12: “A Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) should be developed during the planning phase and used to guide site management during construction.”
A SWPPP lays out the steps and techniques used to reduce pollutants in stormwater runoff leaving a construction site (i.e. wind development site).
Best Practice #13: “Developers should ensure the construction of wind projects complies with general construction regulations and uses best management practices to minimize the construction footprint.”
Best Practice #14: “Standard environmental survey protocols should be developed by federal and state natural resource management agencies as appropriate. Developers should adhere to those standardized environmental survey protocols for both pre- and post-construction monitoring.”
This would result in having a standard protocol for assessing bird, bat and wildlife survey protocols.
Currently, the only guidelines that exist are voluntary guidelines established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The GLWC reports the USFWS has released voluntary draft guidelines for siting commercial wind turbines that include a “tiered approach” for assessing potential impacts on fish, wildlife and their habitats.
The GLWC notes the USFWS guidelines should be used as a basis for developing specific protocols to address the survey needs for a specific wind development site.
One option for developing common bird, bat and wildlife survey protocols for wind projects in the Great Lakes region is establishing a regional task force of federal and state representatives.
Best Practices #15: “Using brownfields for wind projects.”
Brownfields are vacant, neglected or blighted properties with real or perceived contamination.
“Legacies of a once-thriving industrial economy, these lands are peppered throughout urbanized areas in the Great Lakes region,” according the GLWC. “Both large and small brownfields should be explored as candidate sites for wind development projects and should be selected over undeveloped greenfields in areas where both types of property are available for wind development.”
Best Practices #16: “Developers should create provisions for future site decommissioning and reclamation to ensure that the entire development life cycle is accounted for.”
Decommissioning plans should outline the expected end of the project life; explain when and under what circumstances decommissioning and reclamation would occur and include a proposed schedule for decommissioning.
Among other things, the plan also should include the estimated cost of decommissioning. Permitting agencies (i.e. local governments) should require a bond or other financial assurance from the developer to ensure decommissioning costs do not become the responsibility of the local community.
Best Practices #17: “An adaptive regulatory roadmap for offshore wind.”
The lack of regulatory certainty is a leading obstacle to pursuing offshore wind development. Currently, a regulatory quagmire exists that has the potential for unnecessary duplication, protracted timelines and litigation when decisions are made.
“A clear process or roadmap is needed that sets out which agencies must or should be consulted, the information those agencies require and the timing of those reviews,” according to the GLWC’s recommendation.
Best Practices #18: “Enact policies which provide a clear, coordinated and fair process for leasing lake bottomlands to facilitate appropriate offshore wind development.”
The Submerged Lands Act grants the Great Lakes states the authority to lease the lands beneath navigable waters within each state’s boundaries. As a result, all Great Lakes jurisdictions have some form of regulations regarding bottomland permitting/leasing, but few have legislation that specifically addresses offshore wind.
The GLWC reports that in some jurisdictions, new legislation or a modification of existing rules may be necessary to address offshore wind permitting and leasing.
A bill introduced into the Michigan Legislature in 2010 (HB 6564) would establish regulations for leasing Great Lakes bottomlands. The bill includes specific requirements for the siting, construction, operation and decommissioning of offshore wind energy facilities in the Great Lakes.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding