Wind Energy

Posted: Aug 31, 2010

Wind energy technology produces no fossil fuel emissions and is a highly desirable form of renewable energy in areas with a lot of wind and a lot of land. In 2008, the United States became the world’s largest wind energy generator, producing enough wind energy to power over 5 million homes. The New York Times reported that the nation's wind power capacity increased by 39 percent in 2009, and that nearly 2 percent of U.S. power production comes from wind energy. Of course, the United States also has a great deal more land for wind energy generation than second-place Germany, but the trend toward greater U.S. wind power is nevertheless encouraging for renewable energy advocates everywhere. For updated information on wind generation in the U.S. see the 2010 annual market report from the American Wind Energy Association.

Nonetheless, wind energy production is not without critics. In many cases, the source of wind power is far from the areas of demand, requiring construction of transmission lines and other infrastructure. Wind power can be highly variable, requiring other power sources to provide electricity when the wind is not blowing. Many conservationists are concerned about the impacts of industrial wind farms on birds, wildlife, and other natural landscape attributes. See, for example, an editorial from the Toronto Globe and Mail expressing concerns about the environmental and social impacts of largescale wind development.

This discussion provides an overview of the legal and policy issues that arise in producing wind-powered electricity. For a more general discussion of federal laws and policies affecting renewable energy production, see the Renewable Energy section

Key Concepts

The Benefits of Wind Energy

Wind energy development has been greatly increasing in recent years in the United States. For the last four years, wind power was second only to natural gas in terms of new installed capacity. The popularity of wind energy is due in part to the followingadvantages :


  • Wind power replaces the need to build more polluting, conventional power plants. 
  • Wind power produces virtually no pollution of air, water, or soil. 
  • Wind power is renewable. 
  • There is enough potential wind power in the United States to power the entire country. 
  • Because wind turbines are modular in nature, it is easy to add more capacity. 
  • Installing wind turbines is relatively quick. 
  • The price of wind power is not affected by increased fuel prices or supply disruptions. 
  • There are federal tax incentives for wind generation.

The Costs of Wind Energy

Although wind energy is more environmentally friendly than many other energy sources, it is not without costs. Some of the potential environmental costs associated with wind farm development include:

  • The use of large tracts of land.  The average wind farm requires 17 acres of and per one megawatt of electricity production.  This impact can be reduced by installing wind farms on land that is currently being used for agriculture or grazing, creating multipurpose tracts.
  • Erosion in desert areas.
  • Changes in visual quality of landscapes.
  • Disturbances to wildlife habitats.
  • Bird and bat mortality due to collisions with wind turbines and wires.
  • Noise. This includes both audible noise and low-frequency, deep-base-vibration sound waves.
  • Grass or brushfires.  These fires could be caused by electrical sparks in the unlikely event that electrical cables get stretched or twisted when wind turbines turn.

Wind Energy System Basics

Wind farms consist of individual turbines, which rotate in the wind. This mechanical energy is then converted into electrical energy. In other words, a wind turbine is the opposite of a fan; it uses wind to make electricity instead of using electricity to make wind. As the turbine blades turn in the wind, they spin a shaft which connects to a generator to produce electricity . 
wind_energy.jpgPeople in rural and agricultural areas looking to harness wind energy often choose a distributed use system, which provides up to 25 kilowatts of isolated, on-site wind power.  This is a cost-effective option in very remote areas where it is impossible or prohibitively expensive for people to connect their properties to a utility grid.   Wind energy can also be generated on a larger scale for more users with a utility-scale wind farm. In addition to wind turbines, a utility-scale wind farm includes an underground power transmission system, control and maintenance facilities, and a substation that connects the farm with the utility grid. Small utility-scale wind turbines produce less than 50 kilowatts (kW), intermediate turbines produce 50 to 500 kW, and large turbines produce more than 500 kW.  Since the late 1990s, most of the new utility-scale turbines are capable of producing 600 kW or more.

Utility-scale wind farms generally require an average annual wind speed of at least 13 miles per hour. In some areas, wind speed changes during certain seasons. For example, in California, wind speeds are highest during the hot summer months, and approximately 75 percent of all California wind-generated electricity is produced during the spring and summer.

Offshore Wind Energy Development

When it comes to advancing offshore renewable energy development, federal agencies have so far focused primarily on wind projects. For more information on offshore wind energy development see offshore renewable energy on public lands .

Process Essentials: Federal

Tax Incentives

Under current law, utility-scale wind turbines can receive an income tax credit of 2.1 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity production. This renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) was created by the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and is presently extended through 2013. Federal legislation in 2009 also allows wind project developers to choose a 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC) instead of the PTC for facilities placed in service from 2009 to 2013 as long as construction of the facilities begins before the end of 2010. If the construction requirement is met, the ITC may be converted into a grant from the Treasury Department, which must be awarded within 60 days of the grant application submission.

Utility-scale wind projects are not the only systems to benefit from federal tax incentives. Under current law, consumers can also receive an ITC to help them purchase small wind turbines for their home, farm, or business. A small wind system, defined as 100 kilowatts of capacity or less, was initially eligible for a credit of 30 percent of the system’s total installed cost under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. The credit value is now uncapped as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The credit is available for wind equipment installed from October 3, 2008 through December 31, 2016.

The Siting Process

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the agency primarily responsible for siting wind energy projects on federal public lands. To make this process easier, the BLM cooperated with the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Lab in 2005 to produce the final version of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for wind energy development on BLM lands in the Western United States. Copies are also available at the Environmental Protection Agency, the DOI Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance, the DOI Library, and the governor’s office in each of the 11 western states. The PEIS incorporates environmental analysis and mitigation strategies in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and it also includes proposed amendments to selected land use plans (Appendix C). The proposed land use plan amendments involve BLM lands in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Land use plans in Arizona and California were excluded from amendment because, at the time the PEIS was published, ongoing and upcoming land use plan amendments were being conducted in these states that were outside the scope of the wind PEIS. The BLM was satisfied that these broader land use amendments in California and Arizona would include wind energy development where wind resources were present. (See Appendix C of the PEIS for wind).

Anyone interested in filing a protest against a proposed land use plan amendment must follow the instructions given in 43 CFR 1610.5. Protests are only allowed on issues which were previously raised and submitted by the protesting party during the NEPA analysis and planning process. E-mailed and faxed protests are only valid as an advance copy and must be accompanied by a follow-up letter. The follow-up letter must contain:

  1. The name, mailing address, telephone number, and interest of the protesting party
  2. A statement of the specific plan(s) by name and the amendment(s) being protested
  3. A copy of all documents addressing the issue(s) that the protesting party submitted during the NEPA analysis and planning process or a statement of the date they were discussed for the record.
  4. A concise statement explaining why the protesting party believes the proposed land use plan amendment(s) is wrong.

More on the BLM Policy for Wind Energy Development on Public Lands

  • All future land use planning efforts will address wind resource potential, public and environmental concerns, and opportunities for wind energy development within the land use planning area consistent with Appendix C of the BLM Land Use Planning Handbook.
  • Visual Resource Management (VRM) concerns must be carefully considered in areas with high wind energy resource potential. The goal of the VRM program is to apply basic design principles to the wind project at the site-specific level to mitigate or minimize visual resource impacts on the public lands.
  • The BLM will not issue right-of-way authorizations for wind energy development in areas designated as part of the National Landscape Conservation System (e.g. Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, National Conservation Areas, National Monuments, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Historic and Scenic Trails). Wind energy development is permitted, however, in one National Conservation Area, the California Desert Conservation Area, under the California Desert Conservation Area Plan of 1980.
  • For future land use planning purposes, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) will not be universally excluded from wind energy development, but will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the specific environmental concerns preclude wind development.

BLM Instruction Memorandum No. 2009-043 (effective through September of 2010), available here.

The Basics of the BLM Application Process for Wind Energy Projects

  • All wind energy and wind energy- related facilities will be applied for under Title V of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and under 43 CFR 2800.
  • Applications for a wind energy right-of-way grant may be submitted for one of the following types of wind energy projects:
    1. A site-specific grant for individual meteorological towers and instrumentation facilities with a maximum term of 3 years;  
    2. A project area grant for a larger site testing and monitoring area, with a term of 3 years that may be renewed under 43 CFR 2807.22; or 
    3. A development grant with a term that is not limited by the regulations, but is typically for a term of 30 years.
  • Applications for a wind energy right-of-way grant will be submitted using Form SF-299, Application for Transportation and Utility Systems and Facilities on Federal Land, consistent with the requirements of 43 CFR 2804.12.
  • Wind energy applicants will be encouraged to schedule preapplication meetings with the BLM to:
    • Assist in the preparation and processing of applications,   
    • Identify potential issues and conflict areas,   
    • Identify visual resource issues and define the viewshed area of the proposed project for visual resources modeling,   
    • Identify any environmental or cultural resource studies that may be needed,  
    • Assess public interest and concerns,   
    • Identify other authorized uses,   
    • Identify other general recreation and public uses in the area,   
    • Discuss potential alternative site locations, and 
    • Discuss potential financial obligations (cost recovery fees, rental, and bonding) that the applicant must be willing to assume.

In addition to the BLM’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for wind projects, federal wind siting policies have been developed by several other government agencies. The Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security have issued joint program policy letters regarding the siting of wind turbines. These agencies are especially concerned with the potential effect of wind turbines on national security radar systems.  Their joint policy is to assess particular wind projects on a case-by-case basis and to raise any military or national security concerns with the appropriate regulatory agency in order to come up with a mutually satisfactory wind project proposal. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also concerned with wind energy development projects. In 2002, the Service established a Wind Turbine Siting Working Group to develop a set of national guidelines for siting and constructing wind energy projects. In 2003, the Service published a set of Interim Guidelines to Avoid and Minimize Wildlife Impacts from Wind Turbines according to the best available science. The guidelines were intended to be commented upon and updated in order to continue to protect wildlife resources, streamline the wind project site selection and design process, and avoid post-construction environmental issues. The Secretary of the Department of the Interior reviewed the comments received, and decided to establish an ongoing Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The Guidelines Advisory Committee is made up of 22 members appointed by the Secretary to create a balanced representation of the interests of government, wildlife conservation, and wind energy development. The Committee’s purpose is to provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior for implementing wind energy development policies which avoid or minimize impacts on wildlife and ecosystems. The Fish and Wildlife Service released draft guidelines on July 12, 2011.

The U.S. Forest Service has proposed amendments to its current internal agency directives for wildlife monitoring and special use authorizations in order to guide the development of wind energy on National Forest System lands. The proposed directives were first published in the September 24, 2007 edition of the Federal Register. Included in the Register, is the proposed directives’ purpose to “provide a consistent framework and terminology for making decisions regarding proposals and applications for wind energy uses. Specifically, the directives would provide guidance on siting wind energy turbines, evaluating a variety of resource interests, and addressing issues specifically associated with wind energy in the special use permitting process. These issues include potential effects on scenery, national security, significant cultural resources, and wildlife, especially migratory birds and bats.”  

To date, the directives have yet to be finalized. In January 2009, the Forest Service’s proposed directives were brought up as part of the discussion surrounding wind farm development in the Inyo National Forest in California. The Inyo public meeting press release stated that District Ranger Jon Regelbrugge would be present at the meeting to speak about the proposed directives and the Forest Service’s potential role in future wind energy development. The press release also emphasized that any future wind development projects, if approved, would still be subject to a NEPA analysis. 

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has also provided policy input to the wind energy siting process . The NTIA is responsible for resolving technical telecommunications problems for the federal government and the private sector. Consequently, the NTIA needs wind turbines to be sited where they will not interfere with radio, microwave, radar, and other frequencies. 

The siting of wind energy projects may also be affected directly by federal regulations. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for promoting air safety and the efficient use of navigable airspace. If a proposed wind energy project might affect navigable airspace, then a Notice of Proposed Construction or Alteration must be filed with the FAA. 

Process Essentials: States

When choosing a project site, wind energy developers will look to local ordinances to determine whether a particular town or county is wind-friendly. Common local ordinances affecting wind energy development may regulate the following:

  • Access 
  • Appearance/ color 
  • Clearance 
  • Electrical wire standards 
  • Associated electrical equipment 
  • Height 
  • Lighting 
  • Noise standards 
  • Permits 
  • Restoration 
  • Set backs 
  • Shadow Flicker* 
  • Signage 
  • Signal interference 
  • Spacing/ density 
  • Zoning areas 

* Shadow flicker refers to the alternating changes in light intensity that are caused by the passing shadow of a moving wind turbine blade.

Wind energy development may also be subject to local permitting processes. Common permits with the potential to affect wind projects include:  

  • County Conditional or Special Use Permit         
  • County Zoning Ordinance          
  • Potential Subdivision          
  • Stormwater Permit         
  • Dust Control Permit         
  • County Building Permits          
  • Electrical Permits         
  • Right-of-Way Permits         
  • Highway Access and Encroachment Permits         
  • Specific Permit         
  • Set backs         
  • Water Well Permit 

Although local ordinances and permitting processes can have a large effect on wind energy development in a particular area, the greatest regulatory control over wind energy development occurs at the state level. In 2008, residents of Kittitas County in the state of Washington learned first hand that state government trumps local government when it comes to wind energy development. For more information, see the Controversies section below. For an example of emerging local ordinances, see "Iron county works on wind law," Salt Lake Tribune, 1/11/10.


An overview of wind capacity growth in 2008 by area of the United States see the following FERC report: 

Wind Energy Development in the Western States

Currently, Texas leads the nation in wind energy generation. In fact, the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA’s) 2008 Annual Wind Industry Report says that if Texas were a country, it would rank sixth in the world. Data from the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. Government’s site for official energy statistics, shows Texas producing 9,006 thousand megawatt-hours per year or 2.2 percent of the state’s total electricity generation in 2007. Texas is not alone, however, in American wind energy production. The western states are also doing their part, especially New Mexico which produced nearly 4 percent of its total electricity from wind energy sources in 2007. 



Approximately 95 percent of California’s wind energy development is located in three regions: Altamont Pass (east of San Francisco), Tehachapi (southeast of Bakersfield), and San Gorgonio (near Palm Springs). In 1995, these three areas produced 30 percent of the entire world’s wind-generated electricity. 

In 2002, the University of California and the California Energy Commission established theCalifornia Wind Energy Collaborative (CWEC) . The CWEC is a state-level forum for wind power issues and is located on the University of California Davis campus. Wind industry members, national labs, state agencies, county officials, trade organizations, private consultants, academic scholars, and other interested parties are invited to attend the annual California Wind Energy Collaborative Forum to engage in open dialogue on wind energy development in California. Additionally, the CWEC performs and participates in studies to investigate issues such as the viability of wind power, performance evaluations of small wind turbines, the economics of wind energy storage systems, and wind resource assessment in urban environments. 

Although California is still a major producer of wind power, new wind energy development in California has slowed down significantly in recent years. From 2006 to 2008, Texas increased its wind power generation by 157%. Iowa ramped up wind power generation by 198%, surpassing California to become the second greatest wind power state in the country, behind Texas. Although California still came in third overall, its wind power generation only increased by 7% over this two-year period. 

Wind energy developers say that California’s more rigorous and expensive permitting process is responsible for sending the wind business elsewhere. According to Mark Tholke, director of the Southwest region for the renewable energy company known as EnXco, the cost of obtaining wind project permits in California is significantly more expensive than the permit costs of any other state. These costs might be offset by the higher rate that California utilities are willing to pay for wind-generated electricity were it not for an additional cost—uncertainty. The Bureau of Land Management is comparatively strict in California, and last-minute environmental issues often threaten proposed wind projects. Mr. Tholke explains that “as a developer we can handle the costs. What we cannot handle is the surprise.” For example, as of late January 2009, EnXco’s wind project plans in Northern California were being called into question at the last minute by Travis Air Force Base’s concerns about radar interference and by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s concerns about the tiger salamander.

By the end of February 2009, the radar and tiger salamander issues had been overcome, and the EnXco project was set to move ahead. Nevertheless, EnXco’s chief executive, Tristan Grimbert, declared that financing and permitting problems had made this California project his toughest wind venture so far. With developers like EnXco so discouraged by California’s wind permitting process, it remains to be seen whether California will continue to be a major player in the wind power industry.



Colorado has made significant advances in wind energy development over the last few years. In 2007, three new wind farms opened, generating nearly 750 megawatts of electricity which is enough energy to power 250,000 homes. In 2008, a Denmark-based company, Vestas Blades, opened its first North American wind turbine blade factory in Windsor, Colorado. In March of 2009, The Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark took place in the groundbreaking ceremony for another Vestas Blades factory in Brighton, Colorado. Vestas Blades is also constructing the world’s largest wind tower factory in Pueblo, Colorado. The Pueblo factory should be operational by the end of 2009 and will represent 50 percent of the total wind tower units produced worldwide. The Brighton, Windsor, and Pueblo factories will employ approximately 2,500 people in Colorado by the end of 2010. 

Siemens Energy has also come to Colorado to develop a wind turbine research and design facility in Boulder. The facility will focus on developing performance-enhancing technologies and increasing wind turbine reliability in severe weather conditions. The research and design facility is expected to create approximately 50 new jobs by 2013. Siemens Energy will also partner with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to install a wind turbine at the National Wind Technology Center located south of Boulder. 

Colorado has also developed programs for electricity consumers that are designed to increase the profitability of wind energy development. For example, Xcel Energy, a major electricity provider in Colorado, has established Windsource, the nation’s largest voluntary renewable energy program. Residential electric customers can choose to pay an extra charge in their electricity bill in order to have their power supplied by wind energy sources. According to Xcel, it will cost less than $25 per month to power a typical residential home (using 600-1000 kWh) with 100% wind energy. This promise from Xcel is a bit misleading. In actuality, there is no way to ensure that the households who pay extra are actually receiving wind-generated electricity. Instead, the point of the program is for Xcel to use the extra funds to purchase wind energy in amounts equivalent to the households’ electricity use.

The Windsource program caused controversy in late 2008, when it was discovered that Xcel was not purchasing as much wind power from the Windsource plants as was required by the amount of extra payments from participating customers. Xcel argued that it had purchased enough wind power, but that some of the sources of wind power had not been explicitly made a part of the Windsource program. In January 2009, the Public Utilities Commission of the State of Colorado issued a recommended decision in the case, involving refunds to customers and modifications of the Windsource program for the future. For more details, see Docket No. 08A-260E, Decision No. R09-0117 from the records of the Public Utilities Commission of the State of Colorado.

In January 2012, a coalition of conservationists and wind industry representatives released a set of voluntary "best management practices" for siting and building wind farms in Colorado, suggesting practices to minimize impacts on bats, mountain plovers, playas, and prairie chickens. See "Wind industry, conservationists forge best environmental practices for farm siting," Denver Post, 1/31/12.

New Mexico

New Mexico has an estimated 435 billion kWh of annual wind energy potential. If New Mexico were to harness this full wind energy potential, it would more than satisfy its own electrical consumption and be in a position to export wind power.  

New Mexico is home to several utility-scale wind farms including the San Juan Mesa Project (120 MW), the Caprock Wind Ranch (80 MW), the Aragonne Mesa Wind Farm (90MW) and the New Mexico Wind Energy Center (204 MW). The New Mexico Wind Energy Center (NMWEC) was the first of these utility-scale wind farms in New Mexico, becoming operational in July of 2003 near Fort Sumner. The NMWEC is expected to bring more than $40 million over 25 years to the rural counties of De Baca and Quay. In lieu of taxes, the NMWEC makes a $450,000 payment every year to the county governments and school districts. The Wind Energy Center also spends approximately $550,000 per year on lease payments to landowners and $500,000 on permanent job salaries.

To facilitate the wind energy development process in New Mexico, the state’s Energy Conservation and Management Division has developed a New Mexico Wind Development Handbook , which includes information on the following wind project issues:

  • Site Selection        
  • Land Agreements        
  • Wind Assessment        
  • Environmental Review        
  • Economic Modeling        
  • Interconnection Studies        
  • Permitting        
  • Sales Agreements        
  • Financing        
  • Turbine Procurement        
  • Construction Contracting        
  • Operations & Maintenance


Wyoming offers some of the highest potential for wind power, with about half of the top quality (class 5, 6, or 7) wind in in the country. Yet the state has moved slower than its neighbors in capitalizing on this natural asset. According to a High Country News article on the challenges to wind power in Wyoming, the state currently has just 1,000 megawatts of wind capacity. (A more recent story tagged the state's production at 1,412 MW in 2010, placing Wyoming in the top 10 states for wind power generation.) Many landowners are reluctant to grants rights-of-way for transmission lines across their property; additional resistance stems from the traditional extractive resource industries in the state. 

State policies have not consistently encouraged wind energy development in Wyoming. In 2009, lawmakers allowed a sales tax exemption for renewable energy projects to expire at the end of 2011. In 2010, the legislature passed a $1 per megawatt hour wind energy generation tax that took effect in 2012. A report prepared by a wind energy industry group and released in June 2010 says a model 99-megawatt wind project would pay at least 37 percent more taxes in Wyoming than any other Rocky Mountain region state. See "Wyoming considers becoming first state to tax wind energy," Washington Post, 2/14/10; "In windswept Wyoming, a debates swirls on taxing wind industry," New York Times, 2/20/10; "Industry says Wyoming wind tax tops in Rockies," Casper Star-Tribune, 6/23/10.

The Wyoming State Lands and Investments Board drafted rule changes regarding wind energy development on state lands. The rule changed how surface damages are paid to grazing lessees who are impacted by wind development. Under previous rules, it was up to each lessee to negotiate payments, but the new rules mandated 100 percent of the surface damage payment from wind development.

In August 2009, Governor Freudenthal convened the Wyoming Wind Symposium, which drew over 600 participants. Among the hot topics of discussion were the emerging efforts by counties to regulate wind development--a process made difficult when no zoning is in place. A task force of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association is recommending a new state law to create county regulations for wind energy development, even in counties without zoning. The task force recommended statewide regulations that might include minimum setbacks for turbines structures or roads, requirements for decommissioning old turbines, mandatory public hearing and notification procedures, road maintenance agreements, and emergency management plans. See "Lawmakers recommend new wind regulations," Casper Star-Tribune, 10/31/09. 

On March 3, 2010, the Wyoming House approved Senate File 66, which would extend the state’s permitting authority over wind farms and their related collector transmission lines. On the same day, the Wyoming Senate gave final approval to House Bill 79, which would set a moratorium on the use of eminent domain for merchant wind power collector lines until June 30, 2011. The Senate also approved the continuation of the Legislature’s wind energy task force to continue studying wind regulation issues. See "Mission Impossible: Limit condemnation," Casper Star-Tribune, 5/28/10. For a summary of additional new legislation under consideration in Wyoming, see "Wyoming bill would create wind energy rights," Casper Star Tribune, 12/7/10.

In April 2010, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department released a draft of wildlife protection recommendations for wind developers in the state, aiming at discouraging the construction of wind turbines close to water, forests and other wildlife habitat while allowing flexibility based on site-specific conditions. 

In Converse County, the North Laramie Range Alliance has petitioned the county planning and zoning commission to place a three-month moratorium on new large-scale industrial projects andpass zoning rules permanently banning such development at elevations above 5,500 feet. See "Wind projects should be allowed to proceed," Casper Star-Tribune, 6/16/11. After a Wyoming district court approved a wind farm south of Glenrock, the Northern Laramie Range Alliance announced plans to appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court, arguing that the project proponent failed to prove its financial capacity as required by state law. See "Group to appeal OK of Wasatch Wind Farm in Wyoming," Casper Star-Tribune, 1/30/12. In March 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied a petition from the Alliance to require that the entire development be considered as a single proposal. See "Federal regulators deny move against Wyoming wind farm," Casper Star-Tribune, 3/20/12.

In Sweetwater County, a moratorium on new wind farms first enacted in early 2012 was extended to September 2013. See "Sweetwater County extends wind farm moratorium," Casper Star-Tribune, 5/7/13.

Wyoming added no new wind generating facilities in 2012.

For information on Wyoming landowners favoring wind development, see the Collaboration in Action section below.

Controversies: Kittitas County Challenges Wind Energy Developers and State Law

The Kittitas County battle over wind energy development began in January of 2003 when a wind power company known as Horizon Wind Energy filed an application with the county to construct a wind farm. The original plans called for 121 wind turbines on the proposed site, but Horizon scaled back its plans to 64 turbines after receiving objections from the public. Horizon also decided to set the project back 1,000 feet from neighboring property owners. These voluntary compromises were not enough for the Kittitas County commissioners, however, who each wanted somewhere between 2,000 and 3,300 feet of setback. Horizon asserted that any setback greater than 2,500 feet would render the project economically unfeasible, and its project was denied approval by the commission. Horizon then challenged the unfavorable commission decision by filing a request to preempt the decision with the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC). The EFSEC approved the project subject to the Governor’s approval, which was granted shortly thereafter.

Kittitas County was not pleased to have its local decisions preempted by the state government and took the matter to the Supreme Court of Washington. In Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines v. State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), the Supreme Court held that it is permissible for state agency and legislative decisions to trump local government decisions, and that “substantial evidence supports EFSEC's decision to preempt the County's land use and zoning laws.”  Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines v. State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), 165 Wash.2d 275, 197 P.3d 1153 (Wash. 2008).

Today, Kittitas County is home to the Wild Horse Wind Farm, the Vantage Wind Farm, and the Kittitas Valley Wind Farm. A fourth wind farm project, Desert Claim, may lead to history repeating itself. The Desert Claim project is currently seeking approval from the EFSEC after Kittitas County denied its application four years ago because the 350 proposed turbine towers were too close to neighboring homes. 

Controversies: Wind Energy and the Birds and the Bats

Although wind energy is generally considered to be clean, renewable, and environmentally friendly, it is not without environmental impacts. In the last decade, much of the controversy has centered around the effects that wind farms have on birds and bats. Avian wildlife groups like the American Bird Conservancy are especially concerned about the following problems:

  • Birds and bats being killed or injured by colliding with rotors, towers, wires, or other wind system structures.   
  • Birds and bats avoiding their former habitats once wind energy development occurs.  
  • Birds and bats being negatively affected by direct impacts on their habitats from wind turbines, roads, power lines, and auxiliary structures. 

A California Energy Commission study estimated that over 1,000 birds of prey are killed every year by turbines at one wind farm, the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area near San Francisco.

In May of 2004, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) co-sponsored the Wind Energy and Birds/Bats Workshop: Understanding and Resolving Bird and Bat Impacts. The workshop was convened to examine the available research on wind energy development and its impacts on birds and bats and to determine the best ways to mitigate these impacts. Participants included members of the government, non-government organizations, private business, and academia. The published proceedings include a variety of workshop presentations on wind, birds, and bats.

In response to these concerns, in 2010 the Arizona Game and Fish Department issued guidelines for developers planning wind farms and solar facilities, aimed at minimizing harm to wildlife and wildlife habitats. See "State wind farms under closer scrutiny," Arizona Daily Sun, 9/3/10. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued final voluntary guidelines for siting and operating wind power projects in a way that minimizes harm to migratory birds, eagles and bats in March 2012. A story in the Los Angeles Times highlighted concerns about the number of golden eagles killed in collisions with wind turbines in California's Altamont Pass.

Concerns over the impacts of wind turbines on federally protected birds (whooping cranes and piping plovers) brought down a proposed wind farm in southeast North Dakota in early 2011. In announcing plans to cancel the wind farm, Xcel Energy cited as "a major factor" the concerns of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the likelihood of a required Habitat Conservation Plan.

The Evolution of the Controversy

The unanticipated avian impacts of wind farms first became an issue in the 1980s at Altamont Pass in California. The Altamont Pass wind project was made up of lattice towers containing horizontal bars. It shortly became evident that these bars were doubling as perching sites and that their close proximity to swiftly moving turbine blades had resulted in the deaths of at least 99 eagles and hawks between November 1984 and April 1988. Sixty-three of the birds died from collision with the turbines and thirty-six died from electrocution by uninsulated conductors and wires. Wind energy developers in the area responded by insulating exposed conductors and wires, which successfully addressed bird deaths by electrocution. Reducing bird deaths by collision proved to be more of a challenge; painting the turbines red or altering them to emit bird-deterring noises would violate separate visual and noise impact standards. Consequently, the best option for the Altamont Pass turbines was replacement. Ever since the bird mortality problem was discovered in the 1980s, concerned organizations like the Audubon Society and Californians for Renewable Energy (CARE) have been working with and against the wind companies to ensure that the older turbines of Altamont Pass are replaced with newer, more bird- and bat-friendly models

Nationally, the wind industry has responded in post-Altamont Pass projects by installing larger turbines with slower-turning rotors. The turbines are spread farther apart and have tubular towers with few or no perching opportunities. Furthermore, an assessment of avian risk is now standard practice for wind project site evaluations. 

Now that the wind industry has learned and implemented the design and safety lessons from Altamont Pass, post-construction monitoring at Western wind farms has generally shown a low impact on bird and bat mortality. As a result, the controversy has been shifting its focus toward potential wind farm impacts on bird and bat habitats and migratory patterns. 

In June of 2009, the American Bird Conservancy joined forces with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread to host a meeting of scientists in Racine, Wisconsin. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the current science and create an action plan for the future of birds, bats, and the wind industry. The scientific coalition released its top research priorities in July of 2009. They include:

Studying bird and bat behaviors and more accurately estimating mortality at existing wind turbines . Using current and newly-obtained information on bird and bat population numbers and distribution to focus research on critically important migratory routes and timing.

  • Studying bird and bat behaviors and more accurately estimating mortality at existing wind turbines.
  • Using current and newly-obtained information on bird and bat population numbers and distribution to focus research on critically important migratory routes and timing. 
  • Documenting how interactions of birds and bats with turbines are affected by factors such as weather, topography, and their distribution within airspace swept by wind turbine blades.
  • Establishing standardized methods for pre- and post-construction studies for assessing bird and bat behavior at wind facilities. 
  • Conducting research on best practices for mitigating the impacts of wind energy development on birds and bats.

Collaboration in Action: Landowner Wind Associations

Recognizing the need to protect small farmers against exploitation by large wind developers, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has been publicizing and advocating landowner wind associations (LWAs), a cooperative development model for creating better wind projects on farmers’ lands. The general principle of an LWA is to bring farmers together and to put them in a position of strength in numbers for negotiating with wind developers and power companies. The power companies and developers also benefit from LWAs, because large wind developments or transmission line projects take less time to complete when landowners are committed, cooperative, and organized.
There are currently about twenty-four LWAs in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico with two million acres of wind resources to market. These groups not only sign agreements with large wind developers, they also draft local wind siting regulations and advocate for new transmission lines to ease the wind energy development process in their communities.  

Wheatland, Wyoming, is home to a particularly successful LWA. Forty-five landowners have come together to form the Slater Wind Energy Association, LLC, in order to maximize the benefits of wind development on their 28,000 acres. These acres, located between Cheyenne and Casper, are some of the most valuable wind resources in the nation. Recognizing this potential, the landowners discussed their options and decided that they would be satisfied with a 500 MW project with approximately 300 turbines located on their land. In August 2007, they sent out a request for proposals to about 50 wind developers and received 18 responses with 8 complete proposals. From these responses, the Slate Wind Energy Association chose a winning developer and began to work with the Platte County Commissioners to create wind siting regulations that would support their project and ease the wind development process. If the final negotiations with the developer go according to plan, the landowners will receive more than $2 million during development and construction of the wind farm, followed by annual payments between $6,000 and $19,000 for every 320 acres of a landowner’s property, depending on the location of the turbines on that land. Each 320 acre parcel will support three to five turbines, allowing the landowners to continue to use 80 to 90 percent of their land for grazing, haying, or crops.

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