Article

Now you see them, now you don't

Natrona County has only 11 of the 770 wind turbines in Wyoming, but their close proximity to Casper makes them a distinctive feature (they are impossible to miss), and probably will be for decades to come. Yet neither the county or Casper have any specific visual guidelines in their planning regulations concerning wind towers.

Are camouflaged wind and cellular phone towers possible?

Natrona County has only 11 of the 770 wind turbines in Wyoming, but their close proximity to Casper makes them a distinctive feature (they are impossible to miss), and probably will be for decades to come. Yet neither the county or Casper have any specific visual guidelines in their planning regulations concerning wind towers.

"We just haven't discussed that yet," said County Commission Chairman Rob Hendry about ways to minimize visual impacts, such as making them a less obvious color than white. "I think that's probably a good idea if they (the companies) could do something like that."

There are also state and federal lands in the county, and while the state has not adopted any specific visual guidelines regarding the large towers, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have, as part of their environmental impact assessments.

"The NEPA process also applies to private and state lands," said Butch Parks, a state expert on wind generation issues. He explained the federal government includes surrounding property in its assessment of larger projects, and seeks compliance with its rules... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Are camouflaged wind and cellular phone towers possible?

Natrona County has only 11 of the 770 wind turbines in Wyoming, but their close proximity to Casper makes them a distinctive feature (they are impossible to miss), and probably will be for decades to come. Yet neither the county or Casper have any specific visual guidelines in their planning regulations concerning wind towers.

"We just haven't discussed that yet," said County Commission Chairman Rob Hendry about ways to minimize visual impacts, such as making them a less obvious color than white. "I think that's probably a good idea if they (the companies) could do something like that."

There are also state and federal lands in the county, and while the state has not adopted any specific visual guidelines regarding the large towers, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have, as part of their environmental impact assessments.

"The NEPA process also applies to private and state lands," said Butch Parks, a state expert on wind generation issues. He explained the federal government includes surrounding property in its assessment of larger projects, and seeks compliance with its rules before federal land use is approved.

Hendry said the commissioners have set certain areas of the county off limits to wind towers.

"There's a lot of special vistas in Wyoming that need to be protected.... one of them is Casper Mountain, it's sacred, and a place we are not going to allow those towers to go in," Hendry said. Another area of county concern is around Independence Rock.

"There are a lot of places they can be put," Hendry added. "The flat place north of town, for instance, is good for one thing, wildlife and cattle. If you can harness the wind out there, why not?"

Wind industry and government officials, as well as the general public, all acknowledge that visual assessments are subjective, and research has shown that people are generally evenly split about the aesthetics surrounding large wind towers. Studies have found aesthetic perceptions about the towers can be put in two general categories: whether a person prefers nature to be "all natural"; or, they enjoy seeing development of clean and renewable energy resources.

A straw poll taken at a seminar on the visual aspects of wind power generation at the University of Wyoming last year, showed about half the 60 participants found wind farms visually appealing, while the other half found them unattractive, though most agreed rows of towers lined across an open landscape were the least preferable.

It is also recognized that it is practically impossible to hide a 200-400 foot tower with a rotating blade.

One of the possibilities is coloring the towers closer to that of the surrounding landscape, even using camouflage patterns, as is done with some cell towers. More experimentation with color has been done in Europe, which has more than double the use of wind power, than the U.S.

While virtually all of the wind towers in the United States are white, there is no law requiring them to be.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations give a preference to white or off-white, because it makes them the most visible. If a darker color is used, however, then the tower light must be on during the day as well. The FAA's first preference is also for red lights, and depending on how they are arrayed, not all towers have to be lit.

There seems to be some confusion in the industry over the tower color issue. Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for Pacific Power and Light, which operates 158 wind turbines on three sites north of Glenrock, said he believed white was an FAA requirement, but he wasn't sure. "Frankly, it's not a question that has come up, at least not often. We have purchased turbines that are FAA compliant, so we haven't had a need to look into whether or not there are other color options."

A spokesman for Duke Energy, which also operates north of Glenrock, said he's never seen anything other than a white wind tower, adding that was the color the manufacturer makes. "We take what they give us," he said. When asked if they would consider another color, he replied, "It's an exercise in speculation that we are not capable of responding to."

Chevron is aware of the FAA's white or off-white preferences, and its lighting requirements for the company's 11 towers near Casper, but the Casper Journal was unable to contact an official spokesman.

Another aspect of the lighting issue arose in Natrona County when one resident said placing strobe lights on the Chevron wind towers near her home could potentially cause seizures in her autistic child. Some people with autism are highly sensitive to light.

An additional consideration around changing the visibility of wind towers, according to Butch Parks, is how that might affect bird strikes. Studies have shown that a wind turbine kills an average of two birds each year (other studies show European wind towers kill an average of 37). A report by the Game and Fish Department on wind towers and wildlife, noted that towers placed in migratory bird routes, and in areas with certain types of birds, such as eagles and hawks, have a higher number of strikes. It's not only the blades that are the danger, but the dramatic changes in air pressure around the blades can damage some birds' internal organs. Nationally, wind turbines kill about 33,000 birds each year; two-thirds of those are in California, which currently has the majority of wind generators.

Parks noted the visual effects of wind farms is not limited to the towers, but also includes other infrastructure, such as transmission lines, towers and poles. Most of the wind farms in Wyoming have been placed near existing high-power transmission line corridors, which are limited. This has been a factor restricting wind farm placement in the state, though several corridors run through Natrona County.

The southern half of Wyoming is among the best wind generation areas in the United States, with the Shirley Basin a bull's eye and parts of Natrona County on its rim.

A new, large wind project that will likely affect both Natrona and Converse Counties is reportedly in the planning stages by the wind tower manufacturer Clipper. The company has already received a state lease, but has not yet brought its project before the state's Industrial Siteing Council. Any industrial project costing more than $170-million must come before the Council for approval. The Council's main considerations, however, are around social-economic impacts, and Parks said they do not have specific visual guidelines for wind farms, except what may come up during public hearings.

Meanwhile, Natrona County's neighbor county to the north, is hurrying to write their guidelines before the pending Reno Junction wind project lands on their table. Campbell County Planner Meghan Lehman said "view shed" is one of the areas they will be addressing. Lehman said they would be reviewing the BLM and Federal Highway Administration regulations, because they are established, measurable guidelines.

The BLM, for instance, has a recommended list of colors for structures placed in various settings. The agency acknowledges that wind towers, because of their height, are not easy to blend in; and, that usual prohibitions against putting structures on a ridgeline, may not fit, because functional placement for a wind generator is often on, or near, the ridgeline.

In a related area, there has been a rapid increase in the number of cell-phone and data transmission towers, along with some home wind generators. While these mostly require smaller towers, their number and placement has also raised visual concerns.

Natrona County has adopted cell tower regulations, in order to get a handle on the situation. Their guidelines, however, do not have any visual guidelines, except that "co-placement" was encouraged. This is where cell phone companies share a common tower or space, to reduce visual clutter. In a highly competitive market, however, the private companies tend to keep their sites secret when possible.

The cell companies have, nonetheless, been the more creative in making some of their transmission sites invisible to the general public. One site in Casper is located in a church tower, another is somewhat disguised as a tree. One company, however, that proposed disguising a tower as a tree was told by a close resident that he didn't want to look at a fake tree, so a single column was used instead. Using the tops of existing buildings, water tanks, and other high structures can also make cell equipment less conspicuous.

There are only six to eight home wind turbines in Casper, which put some guidelines in place in 2008. One of them requires the towers to be white or a subdued color, and no advertising signs. There are also height restrictions and setback requirements; basically, if they fall over, they can't land on another person's property.

One other factor that goes into how wind towers look to someone is economic.

Commissioner Hendry said there is a commercial wind project in the works for his ranch in western Natrona County.

"It's gonna look like north of Glenrock," Hendry said. "But if the ranch can make money, then it helps the ranch out, and my kids out, and the future of the ranch....I can run cattle underneath ‘em, and that's my main deal."



Source: http://www.casperjournal.co...

JUN 18 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/26775-now-you-see-them-now-you-don-t
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