BLM Wind Energy Programmatic EIS Scoping
Argonne National Laboratory EAD/900
9700 S. Cass Avenue, Argonne, IL 60439
RE: Scoping Session, November 3, Sacramento, California
The following are just some of the questions that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will need to answer in a sweeping Environment Impact Study of wind energy on public lands in the aird west.
First, I call attention to the literature on this topic, specifically Wind Energy Comes of Age (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995), and Wind Power in View: Energy Landscapes in a Crowded World (San Diego: Academic Press, 2002), and the numerous studies by Dr. Robert Thayer at U.C. Davis. Further, BLM should determine the applicability of the various “Best Practice Guidelines” on the use of wind energy. Some of the provisions in these documents may be of use in the development of the EIS.
Second, in the arid west some wind projects in steep, mountainous terrain resemble surface mining and all the requirements of the Surface Mining Act should be applicable.
Third, the experience of wind development on public lands in the San Gorgonio Pass (Riverside County, California) and that in the Tehachapi Pass (Kern County, California) indicate that where there is non-compliance with the right-of-way grant it is extremely difficult to force compliance. It is clear from the experience over the past two decades that penalties for non-compliance and the mechanism for enforcement must be clear, unambiguous, and graduated. That is, enforcement must not be “all or nothing” but provided in steps to first encourage compliance, then, after a reasonable period of time (one to two quarters at most) to comply or the project seized. We have inoperative wind turbines on BLM land in Kern County that have stood abandoned for more than a decade, an eyesore to all motorists on the heavily traveled Highway 58, and that still stand derelict today. BLM has been unable to enforce compliance, nor has it seized the property–the public’s land–and removed the turbines and restored the site to its predevelopment state.
Questions that at a minimum need to be answered by BLM’s NEPA review for wind power plants on public lands include the following.
Removal & Restoration
- Who will remove the turbines after their right-of-way grant has expired?
- What enforcement mechanism or bonding will be used to remove the tower and turbine a wind company default or refuse to remove is facilities?
- What level of bonding is required to assure removal and site restoration?
- What criteria determines site restoration?
- What mechanism triggers enforcement of removal and restoration activities?
- What length of time is reasonable to allow a wind power plant to comply when it is out of compliance with the r-o-w grant?
- How will the wind turbines and ancillary facilities be removed and what site restoration practices will be used? Will the foundation be removed? If not, how deep will the foundation be removed below the ground surface?
- With whom will the removal bond be held?
Obstruction Lighting & Light Pollution
- Will BLM be responsible for any light pollution complaints from obstruction marking lights and if so what are the public’s remedies for light pollution complaints?
- Are there alternatives to “obstruction lighting” such as painting the blade tips as in Europe?
- Are nacelle transponders an alternative to obstruction lighting?
Aesthetics & Visual Intrusion
- What aesthetic considerations will be given to nacelle and tower design?
- What aesthetic criteria will be used to harmonize the wind power plant’s appearance with the landscape both near and far?
- What mitigation is there for any visual impact the wind turbines and their facilities will have on the landscape?
- Will visualization of the wind turbines in the terrain be required of all projects or of projects greater than a certain size, say, 10 MW?
- How often will the wind turbines be cleaned?
- How often will graffiti and litter be removed?
- What form of markings and logos will be placed on the turbine and tower? How large will they be?
- Will the tower be painted or galvanized? Will the tower have a dull or reflective surface?
- What color will the towers be painted? Will this match the color of the turbines?
Ownership Preferences & Local Benefits
- Will any preference be given to public utilities, municipal utilities, or locally-owned wind plants relative to absentee wind power companies.
- What local benefits will be required for wind projects of various sizes? Will BLM require a portion of the wind power plant to be locally-owned or otherwise contribute directly to the nearest community?
Grading & Road Construction
- What is the extent of grading that will be accepted, and what measures will be taken to minimize grading?
- What site roads will require “hardening” rather than constant regrading?
- What types of terrain will be off-limits to wind development?
- What amount of grading will be acceptable on steep slopes in arid terrain?
- What amount of tree & shrub removal will be acceptable?
- Will graded topsoil be set aside for reclamation or dozed under? If so how with this topsoil be protected from erosive winds?
Revegetation & Site Restoration
- What seed mix will be used to reseed the soil disturbed by construction?
- Will site revegetation and reclamation use locally adapted native species? If so, how will the seed be gathered and planted? What will be the application rate? How will this be enforced?
- Will there be any vegetative treatment of cut-slopes?
- What turbine and tower is too large for the terrain? In scale to the terrain, and relative to the width and turning radius of the access road needed?
- Where and to what extent will spare parts be stored? On site or off site?
- Will operations and maintenance buildings be permitted on site? If so, what provisions for minimizing their aesthetic intrusion will be required?
- Will the site be fenced? If so, what kind of fence will be used?
- Will there be ancillary lights, for example at substations? If so, how can these be eliminated or adapted to motion-sensors to illuminate hazardous areas only when needed?
- How will ancillary structures be harmonized with the landscape and other similar structures used in the neighboring communities?
- Will intra-project power lines be buried? If buried, will the cable trench be in or along the access road to minimize surface disturbance?
- Will off-site connections to the high-voltage transmission network be buried? If not what steps will be taken to minimize their visual intrusion, such as partial burial, berming, and so on?
- What speed will be allowed on non-paved roads? Who will enforce the speed limit? What will be the penalties for non-compliance?
- Will the site be closed to public use?
- Will turnstyles or pedestrian gates be provided for public access?
- Will there be provisions for picnic tables, litter cans, and other public facilities such as port-a-potties.
- What kind of information signs will be required? Who will write the content? Who will maintain the signs?
- Will data from operation of the wind power plant on public land be required, such as the kilowatt-hours of generation, and wind speeds be placed in the public domain? If so, how? By the internet? On a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis? Will transformers be placed inside the towers to minimize ancillary structures on site? If not what size, color and surface treatment of transformers will be required to minimize visual intrusion.
- What bird studies will be required? Pre and post-construction? What mechanism will be used to trigger bird studies? Project size, location, or other factors?
- What hunting will be permitted on the site? Who will determine who has hunting access?
- What will the BLM do if there’s a significant bird kill? Or a kill of a protected species? What enforcement mechanism with the BLM use and how will it be applied.
- How can the BLM confirm that the wind power plant operator can fulfill all its obligations under the r-o-w grant?
- What measures will be taken to ensure than no leaks of “vital fluids” (hydraulic and transmission oil) occur and that leaks that do occur are quickly contained?
- How can BLM provide site development guidelines and regulations adapted to the different kinds of wind development? For example, will there be the same requirements on a project of 10 MW as on a project of 100 MW?
- Who will pay for enforcement staff? How many staff members will be devoted specifically to enforcement of wind energy project compliance?
- What fire precautions will be taken?
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