Sierra Club’s Southern California Regional Conservation Committee Wind Energy Policy


The following text was posted to awea-windnet on 2/20/97. This monitored news group is hosted by the American Wind Energy Association.–Paul Gipe

Note: I am posting the following policy statement by a regional group of the Sierra Club to elicit general comment. A broader awareness of the Club’s views on wind energy will be helpful to advocates of wind energy in North America, especially in light of recent inconsiderate remarks about environmental issues by some wind industry leaders in the United States.

For background, the Sierra Club is one of North America’s largest environmental or Green organizations. The Club has chapters in nearly every state of the United States as well as chapters in Canada. Many of the group’s members are located in California where the organization was founded in the late 19th century by the legendary Scottish conservationist John Muir. California is also home to one of the world’s largest concentration of wind turbines. When this policy statement was written, wind development in California had been underway for four years and was at a frenzy that hasn’t been seen since.

The twelve-year old policy statement predates the Tejon Pass or Gorman controversy of the late 1980s. Thus it is not tainted by that highly charged conflict and represents views shared in the mid 1980s by an influential part of the organization.

The Tejon Pass fiasco is summarized in Wind Energy Comes of Age. In short, local Sierra Club activists over-reacted to an ill-advised proposal to build a wind plant near Gorman, California. In collaboration with the area’s largest landholder, Sierra Club and other activists killed the project in a widely publicized bloodletting. As with many other environmental controversies, the conflict could have been avoided.

The policy statement was written by committee, probably compiled from notes of a meeting, and reads a little awkwardly in places.

Comments on the policy can be posted to me privately or posted publicly to this news group.

Paul Gipe

Sierra Club Wind Energy Policy

Southern California Regional Conservation Committee

13 July, 1985

A. Introduction: The Sierra Club supports renewable alternative sources of energy which are non-polluting and causes less environmental damage than fossil fuels or nuclear power. Therefore, wind power is supported in principle as an acceptable source.

This policy statement seeks to encourage local, regional, and state regulation, including windfarm siting and design. Since the Club considers that windfarms may be less damaging to the environment than other feasible alternatives, the purpose of this policy is to help local groups in addressing the potential environmental impacts of wind energy projects in the planning and development process.

The California Energy Commission has identified areas suitable for wind development, most notably the San Gorgonio, Tehachapi, and Altamont Passes. During the last two years there has been a rapid growth of the wind industry in California due mainly to generous state and federal investment tax credits. There has resulted great public concern related to the siting and design of windfarms because of their unfavorable impacts on the environment.

B. Definition: wind energy conversion systems (WECS) are used to change the kinetic energy of the wind to useful mechanical energy, or by means of generators, to electricity. Windfarms are groups of WECS or wind generators.

C. Impacts: Due to the large areas of land required by windfarms, the potential for significant cumulative impact on the environment and other areas of concern is great.

1. Erosion: Potential for watershed destruction, flooding, sedimentation, landslides, and fugitive dust resulting from loss of native ground cover and grading on steep slopes.

2. Vegetation/Wildlife: Destruction of native plants and natural habitats; disruption and/or loss of wildlife and any rare, endangered or protected species.

3. Archaeological Sites: Site destruction or loss of visual integrity due to adjacent windfarm development.

4. Significant Geological Sites: Loss of scenic qualities of geological formations due to adjacent windfarm development.

5. Visual Quality:

a) Loss of natural vistas due to service roads, other construction, and placement of WECS towers on or near ridgelines.

b) Structural design, placing, and spacing of towers.

6. Acoustics: Infliction of operational sounds of WECS at any time of day or night on nearby residences or other highly sensitive land uses and wildlife.

7. Safety: WEC hazards include blade throw, expulsion of parts and toppling of towers.

D. Policy: Because of their significant and cumulative impacts, the development and operation of windfarms will be considered for support by the SCRCC only if a cumulative environmental impact report is first produced for the total area to be considered for development. The following concerns should be addressed thoroughly to ensure environmentally sound development before any zone changes occur or any permits are granted.

1. Develop those areas first which are rated as excellent (average wind speeds in excess of 14 mph) by the California Energy Commission to be sure maximum energy is produced to justify the large land areas required by windfarms, or where co-located with other energy or industrial facilities results in a net benefit.

2. Develop windfarm sites gradually to test the effectiveness of the local ordinance and other regulations.

3. Coordinate the windfarm siting process among local, state, and federal agencies to evaluate the impacts on the total are to be considered.

4. Erosion:

a) In depth soil and slope studies are needed, including potential seismic and flooding activity, to ensure little or no erosion will occur both during and after construction.

b) Roads, pads, cuts and fills, and structures should be designed to minimize erosion.

c) Only slopes of less than 25% should be developed. Roads should have grades of 10% or less.

5. Vegetation/Wildlife:

a) Preferred sites for development should be those with low ground cover. Forested areas should be avoided and protected by an appropriate buffer zone or setback. All mature, healthy trees should be preserved.

b) Avoid disruption of critical habitats such as riparian areas, migration corridors, and habitat for rare, endangered, or protected species.

c) Native plants must be used for the revegetation of graded areas.

6. Archaeological Sites: The protection of sites and their visual integrity should be ensured with an appropriate setback on adjacent windfarms and with height controls. In cases of removal of WECS, bankruptcy, or abandonment, the windfarms should be restored to their previous condition.

7. Significant Ecological and Geological Sites: Scenic qualities of such sites should be protected in a similar manner.

8. Visual Quality: There are many ways of achieving a visually acceptable windfarm through controlling the siting, spacing, height, reflectivity, and type and general appearance of WECS. With proper erosion control and the planting of new native vegetation, the visual scarring of service roads and pads can be reduced.

9. Acoustics:

a) An acoustical analysis should be conducted to establish guidelines for acoustical controls, including setbacks, height, and noise limitations, vegetation screens, spacing of both windfarms and WECS.

b) A buffer zone should be established (one-half mile or more) between windfarms and nearby residential and potential residential areas.

10. Safety: Appropriate setbacks from windfarm boundaries and height limits should be established to ensure protection of adjacent property and nearby public roads.

11. Related Governmental Actions:

a) Encourage the inclusion of a wind energy element in local general plans.

b)Support adoption of strong local wind energy ordinances and their enforcement in all phases of development and operation.

c) Support the newly adopted state performance rating system which requires a quarterly reporting of such information as number of new WECS installed, electricity produced, and projected production per turbine.

d) Support removal of all non-producing WECS within a reasonable amount of time (2-5 years) and restoration of the site to a more natural character.

e) Require performance bonds to cover removal of equipment, land restoration, and correction of any environmental impacts during operation.

E: Summary: Development of wind power as a renewable energy source is encouraged. While some impacts of wind development on the environment are unavoidable, it should not mean environmental degradation. The SCRCC encourages development which minimizes all potential environmental impacts and which is equally sensitive to all other concerns. Preservation of the presently remaining open spaces as recreational or scenic resources will become increasingly important and valuable. A more responsible development of the land, with consideration for all values, not just economics, will benefit both the wind energy industry and the environment.