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Natural Institutes wind ordinance recommendations
Posted By Staff On August 25, 2009 @ 4:15 pm In Happening Now | No Comments
BEFORE THE WINNEBAGO COUNTY ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS
AUGUST 17, 2009. READ IN BY SUSAN HOFF.
IN THE MATTER OF A TEXT AMENDMENT TO THE WINNEBAGO COUNTY ZONING ORDINANCE FOR THE PURPOSE OF ADDING REGULATIONS PERTAINING TO COMMERCIAL WIND POWER GENERATING FACILITIES PURSUANT TO CHPT. 90, SECTION 90-41 OF THE
WINNEBAGO COUNTY CODE OF ORDINANCES
Gerald A. Paulson
Natural Land Institute
My name is Gerald A. Paulson. I live at 4601 Paulson Road, Caledonia, Illinois and I am the Executive Director of the Natural Land Institute, a charitable land conservation organization with offices at 320 S. Third Street, Rockford, Illinois that owns several nature preserves in Winnebago County. These preserves could be directly affected by the proposed amendment to establish criteria for the siting, permitting, construction, maintenance and decommissioning of commercial Wind Power Generating Facilities (WPGF) in the AG and AG1 Districts.
My comments are directed at the sections of the proposed ordinance that deal with potential impacts of WPGF on wildlife and nature preserves, specifically Section 90-354 D and E. Permits and Zoning Clearance, and Section 90-355 G. Wildlife/Avian Survey.
Wind energy has become one of the fastest-growing segments of the electrical generating industry, spurred by federal tax incentives and the growing demand for electricity. The number of wind turbines in Illinois is due to increase significantly in the coming years. Illinois has mandated that 25% of electricity come from sources other than coal and nuclear by 2025; wind will account for around 75% of this mandate.
The Natural Land Institute recognizes the need to develop alternative energy resources, such as wind, that can help reduce the amount of CO2 being released into the environment. Global climate change from increased levels of CO2 is a threat to the natural communities, plants, and animals that NLI is working to protect.
When wind energy is used, wind farm developers should follow the guidelines for siting of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) to ensure minimal impacts on wildlife. This in cludes:
a. Consulting with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and local natural resource professionals to identify and avoid sensitive wildlife areas such as wetlands, rivers, hilltop prairies, and bird and bat flyways.
b. Conducting pre-construction wildlife studies at the site. For birds and bats, these include point counts, raptor nest surveys, radar surveys, mist netting, and acoustic surveys. For other wildlife, this includes habitat surveys and radio tracking.
c. Completing a period of post-construction study which looks at mortality rates of birds and bats around the site and how use of the site by other wildlife has changed from pre-construction studies. If negative impacts are found, mitigation measures should be discussed with the IDNR and local natural resource professionals.
The proposed ordinance recognizes the need for the developers of Commercial Wind Power Generating Facilities to comply with all applicable Federal, State and local environmental and wildlife laws and treaties (Sec. 90-354 D), however, it does not spell out what criteria or guidelines the County Planning and Zoning Officer will use to “make a determination as to whether the application complies with the standards…” (Section 90-354 E). The applicant for a WPGF should demonstrate that they have secured all Federal and State permits from environmental and wildlife agencies before any zoning permits are given, and these should be evaluated to assure that wildlife populations are being adequately protected. For example, Industrial Noise Pollution regulations do not control low frequency noise (ELF) that is not audible to humans, but can negatively effect animals which are generally more sensitive to a greater range of sounds.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) currently has no published guidelines for wind farm developers to follow when considering a project. IDNR does not have the authority to order developers to conduct studies, but can recommend it under the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act and Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act. The applicant should be required to apply for consultation with the Endangered Species Program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and to include a copy of the Agency Action Report from the IDNR in the application. The applicant should also be required to spell out what steps it will take to avoid, correct or mitigate for any of effects on endangered or threatened species of wildlife, or important wildlife habitat, parks or preserves contained in the Agency Action Report. Failure of the applicant to respond to the recommendations in the report in a timely manner should be sufficient reason to find the application invalid.
At present, there is consensus in the scientific community that far too little is known about the impacts of wind farms on wildlife populations. This is particularly true in Illinois, where no major on-the-ground study has been conducted. A 2007 report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “a better analysis…on bird and bat fatalities is needed, especially given projections of substantial increases in the numbers of wind turbines in coming decades.”
However, despite the lack of research, enough evidence of harm, particularly to bats, has been uncovered to warrant concern. In 2003, thousands of bat carcasses were found at a wind farm in West Virginia, and extensive fatalities have also been recorded in Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Recently, a team at the University of Calgary found that 90% of bats killed near one wind farm showed evidence of hemorrhaging of the lungs likely due to a drop in air pressure around the turbines.1
This evidence, along with concerns about local and migrating birds flying into turbine blades, and the habitat disruption and fragmentation that comes with constructing turbines, has led to both federal and state guidance on the siting of wind farms.
In 2007, IDNR published a report on the potentia l effects of wind farms on the state’s birds and bats.2 The report was a review of the existing scientific literature, and detailed potential effects of the turbines themselves and the disruption of surrounding habitat. Because of the lack of State standards for protecting wildlife from the impacts of WPGF, it is imperative that the proposed ordinance provide clear and enforceable criteria for evaluating these impacts. Section 90-355 G. Wildlife/Avian Survey should be amended to including the following requirements:
Standard Conditions for Acceptable Wildlife Impacts
The wind farm shall be located, designed, constructed, and operated so as to avoid and if necessary mitigate the impacts to wildlife to a sustainable level of mortality including the following:
· Avoid locating wind turbines in known bird and bat migration pathways and daily movement flyways and known hibernacula and flight paths between bat colonies and bat feeding areas.
· Site wind turbines and design mitigation measures in a manner that will achieve a level of mortality to birds and bats that will protect sustainability of populations.
· Site wind turbines in locations that will not cause winter or summer shadow flicker on parks, preserves or critical wildlife habitat.
A qualified professional, such as an ornithologist or wildlife biologist, shall conduct a pre-construction site risk assessment study to estimate the impacts of the construction and operation of the proposed wind farm on birds and bats. The pre-construction site risk assessment shall be submitted with the application and shall include the following minimum information:
· A literature review of existing information on species and potential habitats and results of agency database queries for records of rare, threatened, and endangered species and important habitats in the vicinity of the proposed WPGF.
· A mapping of the general vegetation and land cover types, wildlife habitat and quality, and physical characteristics of the proposed WPGF
· A field examination that verifies results of the literature review and agency queries and documents general site habitat conditions.
· A review of existing literature of avian and bat mortality field results within North America and in similar physiographic settings as the proposed WPGF.
· If the risk assessment indicates risk may be low, no further surveys are required.
· If the risk assessment indicates risk may be high enough to potentially adversely affect the sustainability of bird or bat populations a full year of site specific, bird and bat use surveys may be required to address those species and conditions representing high risk from the beginning of the spring migration for birds or bats, and extending through the end of the fall migration for birds or bats and include both the spring and fall migration for both birds and bats in the proposed WPGF.
· The site specific bird and bat surveys may include surv ey focused upon state or federal threatened or endangered or sensitive-status species in the proposed wind farm area during the appropriate seasons to determine the potential adverse impact.
· The results of the surveys shall be used to design siting and mitigation measures to lower risk to a sustainable level of mortality.
A qualified professional, such as an ornithologist or wildlife biologist, shall also conduct a post-construction mortality monitoring study to quantify the mortality impacts of the WPGF on birds and bats. The post-construction mortality monitoring study shall consist of the following information at a minimum:
At least two full years of site specific mortality monitoring from the beginning of the spring migration for birds or bats, and extend through the end of the fall migration for birds or bats and include both the spring and fall migration for both birds and bats in the immediate vicinity of some or all of the wind turbines.
· The application shall include a specific proposal for the degree of precision of the mortality monitoring study including how many days the monitoring is done, at how many turbines, for how long each day, and at what radius around the tower, and the extent of monitoring outside of the spring and fall migrations.
· A written report on avian and bat mortality shall be submitted to the Winnebago County Zoning Code Enforcement Officer at the end of first two full years of wind farm operation. The mortality rate estimates should reflect consideration of carcass removal by scavengers and predators.
· If the Zoning Code Enforcement Officer determines the mortality level does not threaten the population of protected species, no further post-construction monitoring will be required.
· If the Zoning Code Enforcement Officer determines there are legitimate mortality to bird or bat species indicated by the monitoring, the post-construction mortality monitoring study shall continue in full year increments until the monit oring indicates that the mortality concerns are resolved. When mortality concerns cannot be resolved in any other way, the Zoning Code Enforcement Officer may require particular wind farm towers to be shut down to lower mortality of birds or bats to an acceptable level.
Finally, Sec. 90-357. Nuisance Abatement, should be expanded to add a provision to allow the County Zoning Enforcement Officer to require any abatement or mitigation measures necessary to reduce or eliminate the impacts of the construction or operation of WPGF on wildlife, parks, preserves or natural areas, such as significant harassment or mortality of ground nesting or avian species is documented. This may include limiting operation of specific turbines during breeding, feeding or migratory periods, decommissioning or moving specific turbines, or other measures.
No set of procedures will remove all possible negative impacts on wildlife, parks, preserves or natural areas but we believe that cooperation among wind energy developers, government and private wildlife experts, and the public will result in wind farm siting and operation that has the least effect on natural communities of plants and animals in northern Illinois.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments on the proposed ordinance for Commercial Wind Power Generating Facilities.
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