The federal Canadian health agency Health Canada has released a study that found no link between exposure to sound from operating wind turbines and negative health effects. The study took place over two years at over 1,200 residences within 600 meters of wind turbines in the Canadian provinces of Prince Edward Island and Ontario. The study collected both self-reported and objectively measured data related to sleep quality, stress and illness, and found that there was no association between these health issues and exposure to wind power sound. The study also included extensive sound monitoring to evaluate exposure levels of the study participants. Only six of the 1,238 dwellings in the study had measured sound levels above 45 dBA. The preliminary study findings released this month will be followed by more in-depth analysis of acoustical data by Health Canada, with a more detailed presentation submitted for peer-review and publication.
Verrill Dana and Pierce Atwood will host this full day seminar to provide an update on the current state of natural gas in Maine, as well as examine the opportunities and challenges that exist for natural gas in the future. Representatives from the industry, state government, business community and legal community will offer their perspectives. CLE approval for this event is pending.
The 62-turbine Bingham wind power project has been approved by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Earlier this month the DEP issued the project license pursuant to Maine’s Site Location of Development Act and Natural Resources Protection Act. The project, which has elements in several towns and unorganized townships in southern Piscataquis and Somerset counties, will be the largest wind power project in Maine. Construction on the project could begin as early as this winter. The Bingham project is represented by Verrill Dana Attorneys Juliet Browne and Gordon Smith.
On Friday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Sevice issued its first eagle take permit under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The permit was issued to the operational Shiloh IV wind power project in Northern California. Over the five-year life of the permit the project is allowed five takes, which is the number of takes that FWS modeled to occur over that period of time. The permit has a five-year duration. The project decided not to amend its application to try to obtain a longer-term permit under the recently-adopted 30-year rule (which is currently being challenged in federal district court in Northern California).
Of note is that Shiloh IV is an operational project and that the NEPA alternatives analysis conducted by FWS states that the no action alternative is to not issue the requested take permit as opposed to not operate the wind turbines. This creates different alternatives analyses for operational and proposed projects. For an operational project such as Shiloh IV, FWS appears to be acknowledging project impacts as an existing baseline and the BGEPA take permit as a mechanism to extract mitigation measures (in this case retrofitting utility poles and conducting additional mortality monitoring).
The advocacy group American Bird Conservancy has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asking the court to invalidate a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that increased the shelf life of take permits available under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act from five to 30 years. USFWS created take permits under BGEPA in 2009 to allow developers and other entities to carry out activities that might incidentally harm protected eagles.
The suit, filed in San Jose on June 19, claims that the 30-year permit rule was adopted in violation of NEPA because no environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS) was performed (USFWS states that the rule is primarily administrative and therefore exempted from NEPA) and in violation of BGEPA because the rule was purportedly adopted to benefit wind energy development rather than to further the purpose of BGEPA, which is to protect bald and golden eagles. To date, no BGEPA incidental take permits of any duration have been issued.
A lawsuit challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ issuance of a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit to TransCanada’s Sisk Mountain wind power project was denied today in U.S. District Court in Maine. Judge George Singal affirmed the magistrate judge’s recommended decision in its entirety, denying project opponents’ claims based on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
This decision is is the latest in a string of federal court decisions rejecting similar claims raised by wind power opponents.
The Connecticut Legislature has signed off on new regulations governing the development and operation of wind power facilities. Among other things, the rules require developers to submit:
- a visual impact assessment that differs in scope based on the height of the turbines and overall size of the project (up to 10 miles from the project for facilities over 65 MW);
- a natural resource impact evaluation that calculates the expected number of bird and bat fatalities;
- a decommissioning plan that estimates the cost of decommissioning including salvage value and provides (an unspecified form of) financial assurance that decommissioning funds will be available;
- a noise impact assessment;
- a shadow flicker assessment; and
- evaluations of blade shear and ice throw.
However the wind power rules do not impose wind power-specific permitting standards for anything other than safety setbacks (1.5 - 2.5 times turbine height from project boundaries, depending on project size) and shadow flicker (fewer than 30 hours a year at occupied structures).
Sound limits are governed by the generally applicable Noise Control Regulations administered by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Those rules impose a nighttime limit of 45 dBA at residential structures and include a stringent penalty for “prominent discrete tones” that could be triggered by amplitude modulation associated with wind turbine noise.
The regulations will be administered by the Connecticut Siting Council, which has oversight on proposed energy infrastructure.