US wind projects that follow new federal siting guidelines but still cause greater-than-expected impacts to wildlife will not face as much scrutiny from law enforcement as those that do not, says a top Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) official.
“We all know that some birds are going to get killed by wind turbines. If a company, a developer, follows the guidelines and works with us, then you’re going to be a low enforcement priority,” says David Cottingham, senior adviser to the director of the FWS.
Summarising a significant change in the agency’s forthcoming Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines, Cottingham says it is not possible to absolve a company of legal responsibility, but that the agency will focus resources on those that do not voluntarily adhere to the guidelines.
Under development since 2003, a final version of the guidelines is expected from the FWS soon. These guidelines and others still in development for at-risk eagles come as the US industry is increasingly turning to wind sites with greater environmental and permitting challenges.
Experts at the American Wind Energy Association Project Siting Seminar emphasise that the industry does not need another Altamont Pass, the site east of San Francisco where thousands of small turbines were installed in the 1970s and 1980s in an area used heavily by raptors, including golden eagles, to disastrous effect.
Earlier versions of the FWS guidelines were written as if Altamont was the norm, rather than an anomaly, says Sam Enfield, a wind industry veteran involved with the guidelines throughout their development. But after a lengthy process, including intensive input from industry, state regulatory and environmental representatives, the new guidelines appear workable for all parties.
Enfield, investment director at MAP Royalty, says he is optimistic the FWS guidelines will reduce project development costs because they call for studies only as needed.
Genevieve Thompson, a vice-president of the Audubon Society and a board member of the American Wind Wildlife Institute, says the voluntary nature of the guidelines allows them to address issues such as habitat fragmentation and species beyond those covered by the Endangered Species Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Cottingham says the guidelines encourage early consultation, which will help developers avoid sites with insurmountable wildlife issues.
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