Sunday, June 26, 2005

Wind energy development gets boost

6/24/2005 6:00:00 AM
Wind energy development gets boost

Patricia R. McCoy
Idaho Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Interior released its final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Wind Energy Development June 21, smoothing the way for installing wind turbine generators on public land in 11 Western states.

The programmatic EIS addresses the environmental, social and economic impacts of wind generation development on public lands, said Rebecca Watson, assistant secretary of the Interior for land and minerals management.

The study analyzes three alternatives for managing wind energy development on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Those alternatives are:

• The proposed action, which would implement a wind energy development program, establish policies and best management practices for wind energy right-of-way authorizations, and amend 52 BLM land use plans.

• The no-action alternative, which would allow continued wind energy development under the terms and conditions of the BLM Interim Wind Energy Development Policy, and,

• A limited wind energy development alternative, which would allow development only in selected locations.

The new EIS paves the way to developing over 3,200 megawatts of wind energy in 11 Western states, enough to power almost 1 million homes, Watson said.

Those states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, she said.

“This is a significant action, a very thorough document. As a programmatic EIS, it offers a consistent, agency-wide approach to wind energy permitting. That means expedited permitting,” she said.

Currently there are wind energy operations on 1,517 BLM acres and 5,128 non-BLM acres in the 11 states, a total of 6,645 acres. The EIS projects another 12,782 acres on line by 2015, 2,628 of them BLM acres. By 2025, wind energy operations should be on 20,801 acres, including 3,240 acres of BLM land.

According to the EIS, California has a potential for wind energy development on 9,113 acres by 2025, including 1,462 BLM acres. Idaho has a potential of 1,101 acres, including 185 BLM acres. Oregon’s potential is for development on 1,758 acres, 196 of them administered by the BLM. Nevada’s potential is for 1,305 acres, 701 of them BLM, while Washington has a possibility on 1,326 acres, only 12 of them BLM, the EIS says.

“Renewable energy development will be a way of life. Our economic security depends on it. Encouraging its development on public lands, especially wind energy, will help the entire nation, particularly the growing population in the West,” she said.

Department of Interior agencies, mostly the BLM, issues 74 permits for wind energy development in the last four and a half years. The Clinton Administration issued only 13 wind permits in its entire eight years, she said.

“President Bush is serious about making renewable energy a part of our future,” Watson said. “This EIS takes us to the next step.”

Wind turbines have environmental impacts, but they are the same in almost every location. That helped bring about the programmatic EIS, she said.

Permits won’t be issued for all potential sites. The simple movement of turbines can cause birds to avoid an area because they simulate the movements of prey birds, the assistant secretary said.

The new EIS will ban development in certain areas in wilderness areas, national recreation areas, and other specially protected locations, said Ray Brady, BLM group manager for land and realty.

Watson’s announcement of the new EIS came during a teleconference for news media. Brady joined her for the session.

Pat McCoy is based in Boise. Her e-mail address is