Industry wins wildlife regulations battle

UNITED STATES: The latest draft of wind-power-siting guidelines aimed at protecting wildlife from wind development has swung back in favour of the wind industry and could bring an end to a protracted consultation process involving the industry and environmental groups.

The original draft, released in February, strayed from recommendations made after more than two years of study by a federal advisory committee of leaders of industry, conservation, government and tribes.

Those recommendations were backed by environmental groups the National Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Union of Concerned Scientists, a coalition of state governors and other stakeholders.

Many of the committee's wind-friendly recommendations are reinstated in the July draft, which was published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The draft ignored calls by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) to make the guidelines mandatory.

A coalition led by ABC, however, sees the revisions as a giant step away from the mandatory guidelines they believe are needed. "We're really disturbed by what has happened," said ABC wind coordinator Kelly Fuller. "What's surprising to us is that these are weaker than the first draft. Why is there a need to weaken voluntary guidelines?"

Some details remain contentious for the wind industry too. FWS wants the power to dictate turbine curtailment as a mitigation measure for bird and bat mortalities and to keep developers from moving into construction. The industry is opposing both of these proposals. The phase-in period for the guidelines is also still a concern.

Self regulation

The wind industry has proven its ability to police itself, said Tom Vinson, senior director of regulatory affairs for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). That, he said, was evidenced by the long list of national wildlife organisations, including many that are on the federal advisory committee, that supported the wind-friendly recommendations or submitted joint comments with AWEA.

"You're always going to have some organisation out there that's not happy," Vinson said. "But, from our perspective, there's broad consensus with the direction Fish and Wildlife is going."

The federal advisory committee expects to meet this month to review the draft and make final recommendations. That version will be sent to other federal agencies and the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. AWEA hopes the document will be finalised by the end of the year.