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.
A U.S. Magistrate Judge in Maine Federal District Court issued a recommended decision yesterday denying all claims in a suit brought by opponents of TransCanada’s Sisk Mountain wind power project. Plaintiff Friends of the Boundary Mountains had challenged the U.S. Army Corps’ issuance of the project’s Clean Water Act Section 404 permit, claiming, among other things, that the permit issuance violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) because the project was likely to result in take under those statutes.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John C. Nivison disagreed, recommending that the Court grant summary judgment in favor of the Army Corps and TransCanada on all counts. With respect to the MBTA, the Court found that, “Given the attenuated relationship between the Corps’ permitting process and any potential harm to migratory birds, not surprisingly, Plaintiff does not offer any persuasive precedent to support its attempt for private-party enforcement of the MBTA.” Friends of the Boundary Mountains v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs, No. 12-357, at 12 (D. Me. April 23, 2014). The Court also found that several recent decisions by other federal district courts denying similar claims persuasively supported “the conclusion that a take permit was not required prior to the Corps’ issuance of the Section 404 permit, both in relation to the MBTA take permits and [BGEPA] take permits.” Id.at n.6. Magistrate Judge Nivison went even further to state that, because the MBTA and BGEPA do not contain citizen suit provisions, the plaintiff could not pursue independent claims against the Army Corps under those statutes, which are administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and not by the Army Corps. Id. at 11-15.
Two more courts have ruled against wind power opponents’ claims that federal agencies violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) by authorizing wind energy projects without first obtaining take permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Protect Our Communities Foundation v. Jewell, 2014 WL 1364453 (S.D. Cal. 2014) granted summary judgment in favor of the Bureau of Land Management and Tule Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, on all counts. Tule Wind is a 62-turbine project to be located on BLM land in Southern California. Plaintiffs claimed, among other things, that the BLM violated the MBTA and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) by not obtaining permits under those statutes prior to authorizing the development of Tule Wind. The court denied plaintiffs’ MBTA and BGEPA claims, holding that, “Federal agencies are not required to obtain a permit prior to acting in a regulatory capacity to authorize activity, such as development of a wind energy facility, that may incidentally harm protected birds.” Id. at *21.
Protect Our Communities Foundation v. Chu, 2014 WL 1289444 (S.D. Cal. 2014) rejected the same MBTA and BGEPA claims brought against the U.S. Department of Energy and Energia Sierra Juarez U.S. Transmission (ESJ), an entity planning to construct a transmission line spanning the U.S.-Mexico border that is intented to connect a proposed wind power facility in Baja, Mexico to the U.S. grid.
With the Tule Wind and ESJ decisions, all four courts that have addressed wind power opponents’ claims under the MBTA and BGEPA have denied those claims. See Pub. Employees for Envtl. Responsibility v. Beaudreu, 2014 WL 985394 (D.D.C., March 14, 2014) (holding that U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management did not violate MBTA by approving the offshore Cape Wind project without first obtaining a permit from U.S Fish and Wildlife Service); Protect Our Communities Found. v. Salazar, 2013 WL 5947137 (S.D. Cal. 2013) (holding that project opponents failed to demonstrate that a permit was required under the MBTA when the BLM approved a 112-turbine wind power project in Southern California).