VA Wind questions Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality on “flawed” regulations.

As background:  The Commonwealth of Virginia legislature has passed legislation wherein permitting authority for industrial wind energy projects not exceeding 100 megawatts from the State Corporation Commission to the Department of Environmental Quality. Under the legislation, the DEQ is to develop one or more permits by rule for these projects. The DEQ has issued proposed regulations which are open to public comment, which is due August 20, 2010.

The DEQ provided this brief summary:

The purpose of this regulatory action is to implement 2009 state legislation requiring the Department of Environmental Quality to develop one or more permits by rule for wind-energy projects with rated capacity not exceeding 100 megawatts. By means of this legislation, the General Assembly moved permitting authority for these projects from the State Corporation Commission to DEQ. By requiring a “permit by rule,” the legislature is mandating that permit requirements be set forth “up front” within this regulation, rather than being developed on a case-by-case basis. The legislation mandates that the permit by rule include conditions and standards necessary to protect the Commonwealth’s natural resources. The proposal establishes requirements for potential environmental impacts analyses, mitigation plans, facility site planning, public participation, permit fees, inter-agency consultations, compliance and enforcement. The legislation requires DEQ to determine if multiple permits by rule are necessary to address all the renewable-energy media. DEQ determined that multiple permits by rule are necessary. This proposal constitutes DEQ’s permit by rule for wind energy projects.”

Mr. Rick Webb of VA Wind suggests the proposed regulations are seriously flawed.  Mr. Webb responded to the DEQ’s actions with a comprehensive comment and question memorandum sent to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality today, August 18, 2010.

Mr. Webb granted AT permission to share his response to the DEQ, which we provide here for your convenience:

AT Note:  The deadline for public comment is August 20th. The Virginia Register notice lists Carol Wampler as the “Agency Contact,” and provides the following contact info: Dept. of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218, or carol.wampler.renewable.energy@gmail.com.  Comments submitted by email should probably also be sent to Ms. Wampler’s official DEQ email address: carol.wampler@deq.virginia.gov.

Mr. Webb is a Senior Scientist with the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, where his primary research focus is on the effects of air pollution on streams associated with forested mountain watersheds in the central Appalachian Mountain region.  Previously he worked with conservation organizations concerned with the direct environmental effects of coal extraction.  He recently co-authored a Landscape Classification System for Wind Project Siting in Virginia and he presently co-maintains the Virginia Wind Website (www.VaWind.org) , which addresses the need for environmental assessment prior to wind energy development.  He recently served on a National Research Council committee investigating “Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy.”

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One Response to VA Wind questions Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality on “flawed” regulations.

  1. Allegheny Front Alliance says:

    AFA believes there are serious environmental issues the industrial wind corporations do not address. Regulatory action is essential to protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens. Effective regulation is critical to protect and conserve unique biological, ecological, geological, geographical, cultural and historical resources.

    As proposed, the entire spirit the Virginia Legislation that mandates that DEQ develop one or more permits by rule for small renewable energy project is misleading and defrauds the public. It does not represent the best interests of DEQ and Virginia citizens. At best is a minimal plan. The plan fails to address long range, direct and indirect impacts on environmental quality cultural resources.

    The term ‘small renewable energy project’ is inappropriate, misleading and inadequately describes reality. The term ‘industrial wind turbine generation project’ represents a more truthful statement. The common public perception of a ‘small renewable project’ represents a ‘home grown’ project that serves an individual homeowner, a farm or small business. The erection of these small projects is usually in rural areas or atop a structure. Their height is usually less than 100 feet.

    The analysis of beneficial and adverse impacts (9VAC15-40040, p. 2567) requires the desktop survey and maps on wildlife known to occur within the area are inadequate. An important component of wildlife management is habitat analysis because habitat provides food, cover, and other factors required for population survival. Many species are elusive, so desktop map analysis and even observation of habitat use is limited. Using only visual location will produce bias use patterns. This is particular troublesome for i) wildlife species known to occur within two miles of the boundary site, ii) bat hibernacula know to occur on the site or within five miles, iii) maternity and bachelor bat colonies know to occur on the site or within 12 miles of the boarder of the site. Bat acoustic surveys, mist-netting or harp-trapping surveys should be conducted under the guidelines established by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Suggested Reference Resource: Guidelines for Conducting bird and bat Studies at Commercial Wind Energy Projects

    Study analysis should extend beyond descriptive measures. Statistical methods should represent data type collected, how observations are weighed, data reliability, and assumptions required to test the hypothesis. Habitat analysis and reports should consider habitat use patterns, determination of use and availability, utilize random sampling recommendations, demonstrate populations density estimates, survival rates include employing interval and continuous data. All studies should contain spatial and time components.

    That post construction assessments should move beyond counts of dead bats and birds in order to identify effective operational parameters that avoid and minimize bird and bat mortality. Studies should investigate if birds and bats are attracted to turbines and bird and bat activity and mortality vary with wind speed, direction, persistent weather events and other facts.”

    “Monitoring plans should include a robust adoptive adaptive management component that describes the studies to be conducted, anticipated outcomes (hypothesis to be tested) and subsequent series of resources addressing those outcomes. Monitoring should be conducted to determine if the selected responses actually result in a reduction of fatalities.”

    “Mortality searches should use dogs to improve detection rates in medium and low visibility habitats. (Arnett 2006)

    AFA does not recommend the proposed ‘small renewable energy Projects (Wind) Permit by Rule. This recommendation “is essential to protect the health, safety and the welfare of Virginia citizens” because the proposed rule fails to create necessary protections to Virginia natural resources affected by the construction of industrial wind turbine projects.

    The proposed rules offer a misleading description of small wind project.
    The rules inadequately address issues related to historical, scenic, cultural and wildlife resources.
    The rule does not require consultation with federal agencies, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.
    The rule ignores local governments and community organizations.
    The rule contains no protective provisions for human health and safety.
    The rule omits the process of deconstruction and removal should the project become non-operational.

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