Why the Upper Great Plains Wind Energy Programmatic EIS Is Needed
The Upper Great Plains Wind Energy Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is needed to identify environmental impacts associated with wind energy development and associated transmission systems; identify mitigation strategies, standard construction practices, and best management practices to reduce potential impacts; and to establish comprehensive environmental review procedures for evaluating future wind-energy proposals.
Background and Need for Agency Action
Western's Power and Transmission Capacity Sales
Western's Upper Great Plains (UGP) Region sells power generated from eight dams and power plants, and delivers this hydropower through substations and federal transmission lines in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Western also offers transmission capacity in excess of the capacity it requires to meet its commitments to current electrical service customers.
Increasing Demand for Interconnections from Wind Developers
Wind generation looks promising to Western's customers, other utilities, and wind energy developers in the UGP Region as a way to meet increasing energy needs. As of 2008, Western's UGP Region had received eight requests for interconnection for about 1,500 megawatts (MW) of wind generation. The requests are primarily from independent wind project developers who wish to connect their projects to the UGP Region’s transmission system, in order to move their generation to market. Currently, Western addresses each request for interconnection separately, in the order that they are received, and prepares separate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents for each project.
The Federal Power Act requires that Western provide transmission service upon request if transmission capacity is available; therefore, Western must respond to a wind developer's request for interconnection to the federal transmission system, by approving or denying the request. If Western determines that existing transmission capacity is available for a proposed wind development, Western must ensure that existing transmission system reliability and service to existing customers is not degraded.
Western's Wind Energy Development Program and the Programmatic EIS
With the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and other policy initiatives, Western supports development of wind-energy resources in the UGP Region. In response to increasing wind-energy development, UGP Region needs to establish more proactive, comprehensive environmental review procedures to support the development of wind-energy resources in the UGP Region.
Western's environmental review procedures support the processing of interconnection requests by having already addressed generic environmental interconnection concerns and issues in the Upper Great Plains Wind Energy Programmatic EIS (PEIS). The PEIS analyzed the environmental impacts resulting from development of wind energy projects and the effectiveness of mitigation measures, standard construction practices, and best management practices in reducing potential impacts. Impacts and mitigation were analyzed for each environmental resource, and all aspects of wind energy projects were addressed, including turbine, transformer, collector line, access road, and substation installations, and operational and maintenance activities.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Grassland and Wetland Easement Program
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) maintains a grassland and wetland easement program to support and enhance waterfowl populations in the Prairie Pothole Region. The Service's Region 6 has developed a plan that will allow partial release of an easement for wind generation purposes only, and with defined conditions, on a specified area in exchange for additional easement acreage being conveyed to the Service. Under the Service's grassland and wetlands easement program, the owners of land subject to grassland and wetland easements cannot engage in or allow any activity that would destroy vegetation. The intent of the program is to prevent conversion of grassland and wetlands and to protect these habitats at a landscape level while complementing existing agricultural practices, and allow for other compatible uses where feasible. Cooperation with the agricultural community has resulted in the overwhelming success of this program, with over three million acres of grassland and wetlands protected to date.
Commercial Wind Energy Development in the Service's Region 6
In the UGP Region commercial wind energy development has grown from almost nothing in the early 1980s to over 12 gigawatts (GW) by 2014. Much of this growth occurred recently, and some predict the industry's installed generating capacity will continue to grow at a rapid pace. Much of this potential development is occurring in areas with some of the most productive waterfowl habitat in North America due to the presence of large intact tracts of native prairie and high wetland densities.
The scope and geographic extent of the Service's landscape-level easement program in North Dakota, South Dakota, and eastern Montana make it difficult for wind companies to avoid impacting Service easements when developing wind-energy resources in the Region. However, where wind-energy development is proposed for lands subject to the Service's easements, there must be a mechanism for reconciling these otherwise conflicting interests.
As the Service moves forward in permitting easement exchanges to accommodate wind-energy development, understanding the individual and cumulative impacts to wildlife habitat and wildlife is critical. It is essential that the Service consider the cumulative effects of the expansion of wind generation on wildlife. It is also important to understand which habitats should be avoided, and, if development should occur, any actions that can be implemented to reduce the wildlife impacts. The PEIS assisted with development of a streamlined approach for compliance for subsequent site-specific wind development.
The Upper Great Plains Wind Energy PEIS:
Why a Programmatic EIS Is Appropriate
A Programmatic EIS evaluates the environmental impacts of broad agency actions, such as the development of programs or the setting of national policies. The Upper Great Plains Wind Energy PEIS identified and evaluated the generic impacts associated with wind energy development and determine appropriate mitigation strategies to reduce these impacts. Development of agency-wide wind energy development environmental policies and mitigation strategies to be considered in making decisions on specific projects will streamline subsequent project-specific decision making.