Sierra Club Wind Siting Advisory Document

By Paul Gipe


Note: The Sierra Club is a grass roots or member-driven environmental organization in the United States founded by the naturalist John Muir. It has about 700,000 members nationwide. The Club has a long history with energy issues. Though the Sierra Club has a professional staff, policy is created by the members through a lengthy and democratic process. Decisions about specific projects are made by local Chapters or Groups and occassionaly by regional associations.–Paul Gipe

Introductory Comments

The following Wind Power Siting Advisory Document was prepared by the Sierra Club’s Global Warming and Energy Committee (GW&E) under the leadership of Ned Ford, Debbie Boger, Steve Crowley and Fred Heutte, beginning in 2002. The committee’s intent to develop a paper on wind energy was circulated to the Global Warming Forum, the Energy Forum, and to chapter and group conservation chairs. A list of interested parties was developed and over 50 activists worked through many drafts. In addition, significant input has been received from members of the Sustainable Planet and Environmental Quality Strategy Teams.

Release of this document has two main purposes. The first is to acquaint all Club entities, particularly chapters and groups, with GW&E’s view of the need for our nation and the world to move quickly to secure more electric generation from wind. This is not a routine choice for the Club and its entities, because wind projects tend to be large industrial developments with inevitable adverse impacts. However, the risk of NOT proceeding with large-scale development of wind power is also great.

This advisory document is not binding on Club entities. However, it is important for the Club to speak with a unified, clear voice in its reaction to wind energy projects. It will not be good for the Club if one chapter is focusing totally on concerns about impacts on birds while the chapter in the next state is urging the public to support wind projects as a crucial element in reversing the impacts of global warming. Based on the experience of chapters and groups with this paper and with the issue as it develops, the Club may wish to issue clear guidance on how to balance wind’s positives and negatives.

Wind is a fast-changing area. Accordingly, the Wind Advisory Document will be regularly updated as experience is acquired. We urge Club leaders at all levels to share their experiences and views regarding both wind power and this document with the GW&E committee. If you’re serious about wind, please send an e-mail to Ned Ford requesting the most recent version.

The GW&E Committee plans to issue Advisories in other areas. These will be available on the Club’s www-site, We encourage interested Members to participate in the process and to suggest ideas.

Paul Craig, Chairman, Global Warming and Energy Committee. 925-370-9729

Sierra Club Wind Siting Advisory Document

“The following steps are some of many that should be pursued with vigor:… [T]he use of renewable energy sources, such as …. wind power… . “[adopted by the Sierra Club Board of Directors January 20-21, 1973]

The Sierra Club strongly supports the development of substantial wind resources for electricity generation. Wind power is a reliable, clean, renewable resource that can help reduce our dependence on polluting fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and nuclear power for electricity. The consequences of our continued dependence on burning fossil fuels for electricity include global warming, acid rain, smog, increased incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases, and other forms of pollution and natural resource damage, including mountaintop removal and strip mining.

This Advisory presents the Club’s perspective on wind energy development and siting. The Guidelines are intended to help Chapters and Groups consider a range of issues relevant to siting wind turbines. Wind development proposals should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Decisions on specific projects and facilities are generally subject to the determinations of the local Group or Chapter.

Wind development is desirable for many reasons. Most important, as mentioned above, wind energy can play an important role in decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels. Wind power does not require harmful extractive processes like mountaintop removal or uranium mining. Increasing wind production will diversify our electricity sources and improve both grid reliability and energy security. In addition, wind turbines are easier to dismantle and their sites are easier to restore than fossil and nuclear facilities.

The Sierra Club recognizes that all forms of power generation entail environmental tradeoffs, and that there are drawbacks to wind development. The most contentious issues include visual and wildlife impacts. These and other issues are discussed below.

The Sierra Club believes that in most instances many of the negative impacts of wind can be managed. The most important management measures are site selection and careful site evaluation. We believe that with adequate site planning the benefits of wind power in reducing the threat of global warming and pollution will substantially outweigh wind’s negative impacts. We believe there are locations in every region in the country where wind power can be responsibly sited and generated.

Wind power alone cannot solve global warming. We need significant efficiency gains in our cars, buildings, and appliances; we also need to develop other clean, renewable energy sources and conservation. But wind is an available and important part of the solution and its development needs to begin sooner rather than later. Today wind is the only renewable, sustainable energy resource which is being seriously proposed for immediate development on a major scale. It is therefore extremely important for the Club to support responsible wind development proposals where the sites are appropriate.

It is critical that we begin now to implement solutions to global warming. The Sierra Club encourages activists to evaluate potential wind projects as practical alternatives to fossil and nuclear energy — alternatives which offer important environmental advantages. No wind project should be considered as “just another energy development proposal”.

The wind industry has come a long way in the last thirty years and will continue to mature. Wind generation capacity is increasing rapidly and will continue to increase. As we gain experience with wind power generation the Sierra Club will review its successes, failures and problems. This document will be reviewed as necessary by the Club’s Global Warming and Energy Committee.

Wind Power Siting Issues

Land Use

Much of our already-developed public and private land is suitable for wind production. The Sierra Club supports the development of wind projects where appropriate siting criteria are met, meaningful public participation is offered, and any site-specific and substantial environmental concerns are addressed or remedied in a responsible manner.

We support wind production on public and private land where specific and substantial reasons to oppose it do not exist. We particularly support the development of wind power on agricultural land where wind production complements existing land use. The Sierra Club opposes development in protected areas such as national and state parks, national monuments, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, designated roadless areas, critical habitat and designated habitat recovery areas for wildlife, and areas of cultural significance, sacred lands, and other areas that have special scenic, natural or environmental value. In these areas, it is inappropriate to build wind turbines, roads, transmission lines, or any other structure related to wind development . Very limited exceptions may be appropriate when a more damaging impact from an alternative approach can be avoided or mitigated. For example, a carefully placed on-site wind turbine might eliminate the need for building roads and transmission lines into a service facility in a park.

Avian and Wildlife Impacts

The Sierra Club believes that data and observations from wind facilities at locations worldwide indicate that proper siting and design of wind turbines can greatly reduce harmful impacts on birds, animals and plants. Further, the Club believes that there should be appropriate sites for wind power in most general regions of the United States. However, specific sites may prove to have unacceptably high risks for wildlife. In these cases, the Sierra Club should oppose any siting of turbines.

Site studies should evaluate data on wildlife from at least a one-year period prior to construction to evaluate potential wildlife impacts. Each site of concern should be evaluated for potential avian and other biological and habitat effects. Effort should be made to identify and reduce adverse wildlife impacts. If a decision is made to go ahead, appropriate mitigation measures should be deployed, and each selected site should be systematically monitored. Methodologies used for wildlife studies should be carefully recorded so that siting procedures resulting in problem sites can be accurately identified and study methodology can be modified in the future.

Visual/Scenic and Noise Impacts

Visual impacts are highly subjective. The best way for Club activists to ensure minimal visual impact is to develop regional recommendations for places that wind should and should not be sited.

Federal aviation rules require specific lighting on turbines of certain heights. This lighting should always be minimized for aesthetic reasons, unless specific lighting is shown to reduce bird or bat mortality. As more study is done, it may be appropriate to seek modification of the Federal rules for the wind industry, in particular to reduce or eliminate the need for strobing, bright colors, and lights visible from the ground. Wind turbines might be assigned a unique warning light color.

We suggest that wind developers restrict their impact on involuntary neighbors to near-ambient noise levels at the closest residence. Legally binding mechanisms to guarantee sustained noise control should be considered.


Windmills have the potential to throw blades. Under storm conditions turbine blades can throw ice to considerable distances. Siting should take account of risks to humans as well as to biota.

General Guidance for Chapters

Work with developers early. It is important to begin working with the wind development company as early as possible to maximize public input and minimize impacts of the project. Start working with the wind developer as early as you can – hopefully while they’re still at the stage of choosing an appropriate site.

Chapters should encourage local developers to abide by the following principles:

Wind developers who acquire access to rights for public or private property for wind development should respect the rights of neighbors, especially regarding noise impacts;

Wind developers should discuss any proposed project proposal with local communities. This should be done early on;

Wind developers should embrace minimal impact practices;

Wind developers should be obligated to meet site restoration and financial assurance criteria set by regulation. When such criteria do not exist they should be developed.

Developers should carefully record the methodology used for wildlife studies, so that procedures resulting in problem sites can be accurately identified and modified in the future.

Regulation regarding these issues may be appropriate. At an early stage in any project Chapters should identify organizations with regulatory authority and should work with them to assure close coordination with developers and implementation of enforceable constraints

The wind industry and appropriate government agencies can and should play a major role in addressing many issues regarding wind development. These issues include mitigation efforts such as turbine and tower design that minimize perching, reflection and unnecessary light, and minimizing land impact before, during and after the presence of the turbine. Wind developers have a responsibility to be good neighbors, and by working collectively to solve some of the problems they can help ensure that the public will work with them, and not against them. The wind industry should make the results of their research openly available to facilitate rapid development of a core set of best practices for the industry.

Draw on local experience and regulations; Be sensitive to local issues; Regulatory procedures for wind siting are rapidly evolving. Some states and local areas have significant experience with wind siting, and it is important to draw on that experience while adjusting regulatory approaches to the situation in each jurisdiction or locality.

The public should be involved early and continuously. Public participation should be encouraged at every stage in each siting process. Meaningful public participation often requires funding. As you develop your participation process, make sure mechanisms to support it exist. This includes funding for research (including its peer review) you deem essential.

Above all, processes be perceived as – and actually be — fair, inclusive and transparent.

Hierarchy of Development Preferences

The following hierarchy generally ranks places where wind development is appropriate. This hierarchy refers primarily to large wind projects. Small wind projects (1-2 turbines) may necessitate less scrutiny, as they will usually have lesser impacts on the environment. (They may have serious consequences in limited areas, in which case close scrutiny is of course needed).


The Sierra Club will usually support wind development in places that are Most Appropriate:

    • Agricultural land – farms, ranches, grazing lands (considering impacts on rare grassland birds, if any)
  • Land that has been substantially disturbed (e.g. brownfields), or where transmission lines exist already


The Sierra Club should support wind development with appropriate mitigation techniques in places that are More Appropriate:

  • Sites near population and electricity consumption centers.
  • Sites where credible environmental review concludes siting will result in acceptable wildlife/habitat impacts Sites with extremely good wind potential, without strong negative concerns.


The Sierra Club may oppose wind development in places that are Less Appropriate, unless mitigation techniques can adequately minimize environmental impacts:

  • Natural areas where damaging road and/or transmission capacity must be installed
  • Projects located so as to significantly impair important scenic values


The Sierra Club will usually oppose wind development in areas that are Not Appropriate. The categories below include prior-designated or prior-proposed areas. For a more comprehensive discussion see the Club’s Energy Facility Siting Policy

  • National parks
  • Marine preserves or parks
  • State parks
  • National monuments
  • Wilderness areas
  • Wildlife refuges
  • Federally-designated roadless areas
  • Critical habitat for Rare, Threatened or Endangered Species or habitat for indigenous species critical to a region or state’s biodiversity.

Offshore wind development

It is likely that offshore development of wind will be an important component of reversing global warming. The Club hopes to work toward a reasonable balance between environmental and aesthetic concerns and the need for clean energy. Offshore site analysis should include a determination of significant habitat for non-endangered species.

The Club will not generically oppose offshore projects. However, offshore projects have their own set of sensitive issues which must be considered. As with land projects, it is crucial that meaningful public participation be offered and that site-specific and substantial environmental concerns be addressed and remedied.

Studies of all significant aspects of offshore wind development, including the effects of underwater structures on habitat, bird mortality, impacts on marine mammals and shoreline, proximity to sensitive and protected areas, and other issues should be performed as significant issues are identified.

Case Studies

As wind systems are installed it is important to develop and maintain a Club record of the process, and of lessons learned in each case, with the goal of helping future processes proceed more smoothly and helping us learn from experience. Mechanisms to assure this need to be developed.



The Club’s website,, allows searching policies by key work. Concepts sometimes occur in multiple places (e.g. Precautionary Principle) Sierra Club conservation policy on energy conservation and renewables. This basic statement about renewables reads: “The following steps are some of many that should be pursued with vigor:… The use of renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, wind power, and geothermal power. “[Adopted by the Sierra Club Board of Directors January 20-21, 1973]. The Precautionary Principle. Identifies concerns about coastal ecology. Many of the concepts are relevant to offshore wind siting. Discussion of trade-offs and environmental impacts of oil shales and synthetic fuels. Some concepts are relevant to wind siting Discusses subtle trade-offs and public participation.


The following provide helpful further reading. National Wind Coordinating Committee’s August 2001 Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines. This document points out that wind turbines account for 0.01 – 0.02% of all avian collision fatalities per year. In contrast, cell phone towers account for 1-2 percent, buildings and windows account for 25 – 50 percent, and vehicles account for 15 – 30 percent of total estimated bird fatalities per year. Studying Wind Energy/Bird Interactions: A Guidance Document. December 1999.

International Resources

Two international reports are exceptionallywell done. The Australian guide covers all they key issues in a slightly different style. The British guide has a helpful discussion of reducing conflict in identifying potential wind sites. Best Practice Guidelines for Implementation of Wind Energy Projects in Australia. March, 2002. 101 pages. Best Practice Guidelines for Wind Energy Development. London: British Wind Energy Association. November, 1994. ISBN 870054216, 24 pages.