Environmental Review Processes

Wind energy projects trigger a variety of environmental permitting processes. Permitting requirements for specific projects varies depending on the project location and scale. For example, state and local wetlands permits and/or federal review under The Clean Water Act may be required for projects involving impacts to wetlands or waterways. Wind farms may involve certain environmental impacts not commonly associated with more traditional types of development projects that regulatory programs were designed to address, such as access and construction on remote ridgetops and potential direct or indirect avian impacts such as disturbance, displacement, barriers to movement, collision, or habitat loss. Such impacts can be minimized through careful regulatory review as well as geographic planning and criteria that promote wind energy facility development in the most environmentally appropriate locations possible. As with any new, expanding industry, regulatory agencies and elected officials may need to clarify how existing regulatory programs apply and/or refine regulatory programs to ensure that all significant impacts are comprehensively addressed.

The Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) regulates the development of new electric power facilities in Massachusetts. Massachusetts' energy deregulation law created incentives for the development of renewable energy facilities. This same law exempted the EFSB's permitting of many types of energy facilities, including wind energy projects, from the state environmental review under MEPA. Although some wind farming projects may require MEPA review because certain size or impact thresholds are exceeded, the EFSB is not required to wait for the MEPA review to conclude before issuing a siting permit. This process deprives the public and government officials of an important opportunity to review and comment on projects prior to EFSB decision-making. Intervention in the EFSB is a cumbersome legal process and is not an adequate substitute for the MEPA process, which is open, transparent, and free for participation by the general public. Therefore, a comprehensive statewide siting plan and siting criteria are needed and should be prepared through the MEPA/NEPA process as described above.

Pre-construction surveys should be required, documenting habitat and bird activity in the vicinity of any proposed wind farm. Post-construction monitoring should be required to document the level of actual bird mortality and other impacts associated with a facility once constructed. As much as possible, standardized methods of data collection should be applied. Pre- and post-construction monitoring standards should be established in the comprehensive EIR/EIS.

Monitoring data should be compiled and reviewed on an ongoing basis to help advance the scientific understanding of wind farm effects, particularly interactions between birds and wind farms. Contingency mitigation plans should be required before projects are constructed, establishing thresholds of avian mortality, which if exceeded would require specific mitigation responses. The statewide plan for wind farm development should include adaptive management mechanisms providing for feedback of data on the impact of early projects in reviewing, permitting, and conditioning later projects. Plans and funding for decommissioning of projects when they reach the end of their operational lifespan should be required.