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WIND ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT Permitting a Wind Energy Project in Nebraska. Nebraska Wind Power Conference 2011 David C. Levy November 16, 2011. The Permitting Process in Nebraska. Relatively informal and cooperative Start early Be prepared. Effects on Agriculture.

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Wind energy and the environment permitting a wind energy project in nebraska l.jpg

WIND ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENTPermitting a Wind Energy Project in Nebraska

Nebraska Wind Power Conference 2011

David C. Levy

November 16, 2011

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The Permitting Process in Nebraska

  • Relatively informal and cooperative

  • Start early

  • Be prepared

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Effects on Agriculture

  • Direct effects of wind farm on agriculture are minimal

  • Average turbine and access road takes far less than an acre out of production

  • Farmer can farm nearly up to the turbine

  • Produces potentially significant income for landowner over a long period of time

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Effects on Species That Use Agricultural Land

  • Literature suggests turbines may affect grassland birds and other species that use grasslands, up to 180 meters from a turbine

  • Primarily greater prairie chicken, also other species

  • The Nebraska approach has been to mitigate those impacts through conservation easements

  • The analysis and mitigation approach is being refined to acknowledge different types of grasslands across a project site

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Additional Environmental Issues

  • Take of listed species

  • Impacts to wetlands and other waters

  • Stormwater runoff

  • Environmental contamination

  • Archaeology or historic resources

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Take of Listed Species

  • Most potential impacts are to birds

  • Can be direct bird kills or displacement of habitat

  • Wind turbines kill three birds per year, on average

  • Issues when birds affected are special-status species

  • Agencies not issuing incidental take permits

  • Efforts to create Habitat Conservation Plans for certain species and wind development

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Primary Applicable Federal Laws

  • Endangered Species Act of 1973

    • 16 U.S.C.A. §§ 1531-1544

  • Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

    • 16 U.S.C.A. §§ 703-712

  • Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

    • 16 U.S.C.A. §§ 668-668c

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Primary Applicable State Laws

  • Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act

    • Neb. Rev. Stats. §§ 37-801 – 37-811

  • 37-807(3) requires all other state agencies to consult with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and to utilize their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of the act

    • Effectively involves many other state statutes in conservation and consultation

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Endangered Species Act

  • Prohibits “taking” listed species

  • “Take” means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct

  • Take allowed with incidental take permit

  • Permitting process is significant

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Whooping Crane HCP

  • Joint effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other agencies and contributing wind developers

  • Massive effort covering approximately one-quarter of the United States

  • Overall benefit to the wind development industry is unclear

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Migratory Bird Treaty Act

  • Prohibits anyone to or attempt to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried . . . any migratory bird”

  • Applies to birds included in international conventions between the U.S. and Great Britain, the U.S. and Mexico, the U.S. and Japan, and the U.S. and Russia

  • Some exceptions in statute, but no real permitting process; primarily an enforcement or penalty statute

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Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

  • Prohibits anyone, without a permit, from “taking” bald or golden eagles, or their parts, nests, or eggs

  • The Act defines “take” as “pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb”

  • “Disturb” means: “to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available, 1) injury to an eagle, 2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or 3) nest abandonment”

  • Very limited “permitting” process; primarily an enforcement or penalty statute

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Wetlands and Other Waters

  • Clean Water Act – Section 404

    • Difficult to avoid impacts to jurisdictional waters (wetlands or waters of the U.S.) with a wind farm

    • Typically occupy hilly terrain and include linear structures, therefore often include one or more stream or creek crossings

    • Try to keep the impacts small enough to qualify for a Nationwide Permit

    • May require consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    • State level permitting or review may also apply

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Stormwater Runoff

  • Projects increase stormwater runoff, primarily due to the construction of access roads – new impervious surface

  • Typically 1/8 to 1/4 mile per turbine = three to thirteen miles in an 80 MW project

  • Need to comply with NPDES permitting and prepare a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program

  • NDEQ will consult with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

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Phase I Environmental Assessment

  • Wind projects typically occupy land that has only been farm or ranch land

  • For financing purposes, most developers obtain a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment

  • Consider off-site facilities as well

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Archaeology/Historic Resources

  • Wind projects may occupy land that has archaeological or historic resources

  • Most commonly occurs in areas occupied by Native Americans

  • Section 106 review required in conjunction with Section 404 permit or other federal permit

  • May also be required or desired in conjunction with state agency review

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Transmission Development

  • Wind projects typically include some new transmission facilities

  • Connecting lines within the project are typically underground

  • Lines to connect to grid are overhead

  • Wind development and development of other renewable sources may require significant transmission development

  • Environmental impacts will be similar to those described, but on a much larger scale

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  • Wind development may be relatively new

  • Mitigation requirements are still evolving

  • Agency jurisdiction can be a question

  • Impacts may be difficult to quantify

  • On-site mitigation may be difficult or impossible, particularly for bird impacts

  • Off-site mitigation may be preferable; take advantage of existing resources

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Environmental Benefits

  • Generate “clean” energy

  • Reduce need for other types of energy and the fuel needed to create that energy

  • Climate change / cap and trade

  • Renewable Portfolio Standards

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David C. Levy, Esq.

Baird Holm LLP, Omaha, Nebraska

Phone: (402) 636-8310