Article

DEQ issues wind report, but info still found lacking

RICHMOND — After several weeks of delay, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has sent its final report on the proposed Highland wind utility to the State Corporation Commission.

DEQ is charged with coordinating such reviews for proposed state utilities on behalf of the SCC. The department had suspended its review of Highland New Wind Development’s application for a state permit because several other agencies involved said they did not have enough information from the company to complete a review.

But June 30, DEQ sent its report, essentially stating much between agencies and the developer was not resolved or agreed upon. The report is meant to address all potential impacts to natural resources.

The following summarizes the comments gathered and conclusions drawn by those reviewing HNWD’s application.

Recommendations:
Based on the level of information provided by HNWD, the report says, reviewers were unable to determine which permits might be needed with certainty. DEQ said HNWD might require permits for water quality and wetlands, air quality, erosion and sediment controlsolid and hazardous waste, and protected species

DEQ said based on the analysis by other agencies, it has several recommendations for the SCC to consider, but “it should be noted that several reviewing agencies reported that the information is not sufficient to complete their review,” the report states.

DEQ... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

DEQ is charged with coordinating such reviews for proposed state utilities on behalf of the SCC. The department had suspended its review of Highland New Wind Development’s application for a state permit because several other agencies involved said they did not have enough information from the company to complete a review.
 
But June 30, DEQ sent its report, essentially stating much between agencies and the developer was not resolved or agreed upon. The report is meant to address all potential impacts to natural resources.
 
The following summarizes the comments gathered and conclusions drawn by those reviewing HNWD’s application.

Recommendations:
Based on the level of information provided by HNWD, the report says, reviewers were unable to determine which permits might be needed with certainty. DEQ said HNWD might require permits for water quality and wetlands, air quality, erosion and sediment controlsolid and hazardous waste, and protected species
 
DEQ said based on the analysis by other agencies, it has several recommendations for the SCC to consider, but “it should be noted that several reviewing agencies reported that the information is not sufficient to complete their review,” the report states.
 
DEQ provided a summary of recommendations as follows:
* Submit final, detailed site plan to agencies with maps showing the location of towers and all other components of the project.
 
* Conduct viewshed analyses, and report the results, coordinating with Department of Historic Resources and Department of Conservation and Recreation.
 
* Assess cumulative impacts of constructing the project within the Allegheny Mountain physiographic region. The analysis should consider that there are already 88 wind turbines operating, 457 permitted, and 480 industrial wind turbines proposed or planned at 34 facilities within the Allegheny Highlands of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, DEQ said.
 
* Develop sampling methodology before starting studies, and coordinate with agencies.
 
* Conduct pre-construction studies to include a radar survey during the spring, mist net surveys for bats (May-September), and a fall-winter-spring survey of raptors at the project site.
 
* Perform pre-construction habitat assessment for protected species including an inventory of suitable habitat, natural heritage resources, and protected species in the study area by a qualified biologist.
 
* Develop a mitigation plan using the results of the studies to determine turbine placement.
 
* Conduct archaeological and architectural surveys if necessary, coordinating with DHR.
 
* Avoid direct and indirect impacts to wetlands.
 
* Protect natural resources during construction.
 
* Protect species, working closely with Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to ensure threatened and endangered species are adequately protected.
 
* Consider impacts on ecotourism as part of an overall socioeconomic analysis conducted with the Highland County Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Tourism Corporation, and operators of ecotourism companies/facilities, such as Bear Mountain Farm and Wilderness Retreat.
 
* Conduct a minimum of three years of post-construction monitoring, including carcass searches for birds and bats and adjustments for scavenger removal to accurately reflect mortality rates.
 
* Coordinate safety with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
 
The nitty-gritty
DEQ outlined in detail how it reached its conclusions and recommendations, in addition to explaining how much consulting agencies reviewed and discussed with HNWD. In general, agencies emphasized there were aspects of the developer’s application it simply could not review adequately without more information. This was particularly true for DGIF. On the issues, DEQ reported the following specifics:
 
* Water quality and wetlands — The information provided by HNWD noted there are no wetlands within the site boundary and there will be no change in run-off patterns. “There are no water requirements for a wind farm,” DEQ noted. “Water required during construction and operation will be transported by truck to the project site. There will be no impact to groundwater availability since no groundwater will be used for the construction or operation of the proposed project.”
 
DEQ said it appears potential impacts to state waters will be limited to underground electrical crossings of Laurel Fork, and a Virginia Water Protection permit application for utility crossings is under review, awaiting additional information. “In general, DEQ recommends that stream and wetland impacts be avoided to the maximum extent practicable.” The agency recommended extensive mitigation efforts, including using directional drilling and operating machinery and construction vehicles outside of stream-beds and wetlands.
 
DEQ reported that according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, if the utility line crossing Laurel Fork requires discharging of dredged or filled material below the ordinary high water line, a corps permit will be necessary, thereby obligating the corps to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.
 
* Subaqueous lands — The Marine Resources Commission has jurisdiction over any encroachments on state-owned rivers, streams, or creeks. If any portion of the project involves encroachments, a subaqueous lands permit may be required. VMRC told DEQ it appears there is one creek crossing that may involve such land, but additional information is necessary.
 
* Air quality — DEQ’s air division indicated the project is within an ozone attainment area, so during construction, dust must be kept to a minimum. Precautions include using water or chemicals for dust control and removing spilled dirt.
 
* Positive environmental costs and benefits — HNWD had requested the DEQ report include a discussion of the positive air emissions benefits of the project. DEQ said there is insufficient information about this project and other local and regional conditions to allow the substantive impact analyses necessary to make conclusive statements about the project’s positive impacts on the environment.
 
However, DEQ’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Office of Small Business Assistance were invited to participate in the review. They said if the proposed 20 turbines were able to achieve an annual average 30 percent capacity factor, they would produce 102,492 megawatt-hours (MWh) per year.
 
Electricity is produced only when wind speeds are within a certain range, the report states, and the amount produced varies, so power from wind turbines is less reliable than traditional energy sources.
 
On the other hand, they said, wind conditions are reasonably predictable, and developers seek consistently windy locations out of financial self-interest. Wind power is not “dispatchable” on demand, but when it is produced, it is a low cost source that can displace other methods of generation. Electric utilities must match power supply with power demand, they added. Typically utilities maintain a “spinning reserve” that often operates at less than peak efficiency but can be employed (within minutes) to meet rapid increases in demand, but the spinning reserve would not equal the output of a wind facility.
 
At low wind power penetration levels, officials noted, variations in wind power output may be small compared to existing variations in customers’ load.
Further, they noted, wind turbines do not consume fuel so they do not emit air pollution or greenhouse gases. They do not use cooling water or release effluents, and they do not generate wastes. To the extent wind power displaces fossil fuels, it can result in avoidance of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, mercury, and carbon dioxide emissions.
 
But, they said, quantifying impacts requires a detailed “backdown” study that would identify power plants whose operations would be reduced or “backed down” as a result of wind power entering the grid. To assess potential air quality impacts, a backdown study would need to examine and estimate which power plants or electricity sources would reduce generation.
 
* Solid and hazardous waste management — DEQ’s waste division told the agency solid and hazardous waste were addressed to some extent, but the report did not include a search of waste-related databases.
 
DEQ stated it encourages all projects to implement pollution prevention principles, including the reduction, reuse, and recycling of all solid wastes generated.
 
* Natural heritage resources — The DCR strives to preserve and protect the environment of Virginia and advocate the wise use of its scenic, cultural, recreational, and natural heritage resources, DEQ said. DCR’s Division of Natural Heritage maintains a data system documenting natural heritage resources under its jurisdiction — habitats of rare, threatened, or endangered plant and animal species, unique or exemplary natural communities, significant geologic formations, and similar features of scientific interest.
 
According to DEQ, DCR searched its system for these, and noted an absence of data may indicate the area has not been surveyed, instead of confirming it lacks these resources. DEQ recommended SCC contact DCR for an update on this information if a significant amount of time passes before it is used.
 
DCR listed a number of resources that may occur within Laurel Fork, including several bird and water species, plus endangered bats. The project will not affect any state-listed plants or insects, officials concluded.
 
DCR requested additional information and recommended: An inventory to more accurately evaluate impacts and offer specific recommendations; a pre-construction monitoring period of at least two years; and bat surveys May-September of each pre-construction year.
 
DCR also supported DGIF recommendations for: Having a qualified biologist conduct a habitat assessment for the southern rock vole and southern water shrew at the crossings of Laurel Fork to determine potential impacts; plus two years of pre-construction sampling and three years post-construction for bats and birds. DCR does not believe the bat sampling effort is adequate so far, DEQ said.
 
In addition, DCR supports a threshold for mitigation (1.8 bats per turbine per year and 2.3 birds per turbine per year). Research is being conducted on new technologies that reduce mortality of bats and birds, DEQ said.
 
* Wildlife resources and protected species — DGIF said impacts on fish and wildlife resources and habitat are likely, and recommends measures to avoid, reduce, or compensate for them.
 
What’s the DGIF concerned about?
DGIF has told DEQ twice it continued to have concerns for potential significant impacts and that information provided by HNWD has been insufficient.
 
HNWD has referred to two documents from the American Wind Energy Association, DEQ noted. One highlights the “Three C’s” of the wind industry: Clean, compatible, and committed. The other summarizes how impacts on wildlife have been addressed at other projects.
 
DGIF told DEQ it’s encouraged to read of the industry’s commitment to extensive wildlife surveys and mitigation efforts. DGIF hopes the Highland project will serve as an example of this commitment during the risk assessment period before construction and the post-construction period if the project’s built, DEQ reported.
 
Again, DEQ noted, while DGIF appreciated meeting HNWD’s consultants to discuss issues and studies, it was disappointed in the overall purpose and results of these meetings.
 
DGIF recommendations to the DEQ include:
* Any studies be coordinated with DGIF to identify issues of concern, review proposed methods, discuss how the results will be used, prioritize expenses, develop a schedule, and generally reach consensus between the agencies and HNWD. Until consensus is reached, DGIF says, studies cannot be guaranteed to be adequate. DGIF maintains a general lack of coordination continues to make it difficult to complete an environmental assessment of the project.
 
* Include state and federal agencies in studies to reduce costs — HNWD has mentioned its expenses to date to conduct wildlife surveys, but neglected to contact state and federal agencies for help, DGIF said.
 
* Conduct another spring radar study — Contrary to DGIF’s recommendations, DEQ reported, HNWD decided to conduct a breeding bird survey and a bat acoustic monitoring project. The breeding bird study was not among DGIF’s earlier recommendations, and while the agency believes it may provide helpful information, it’s not sure of the overall value because it is unclear how the data will be used. To date, HNWD has not provided DGIF with a mitigation plan stating the results of wildlife studies will be used to determine turbine placement.
 
DGIF told DEQ the developer’s bird study did not review pertinent data collected at other sites in the Allegheny Mountains. Since the project site is used as a stopover point for songbird migrants, more review of the potential impacts is needed. Furthermore, the agency said, a study of nocturnal bird and bat migration conducted last fall does not include data for July and early August.
 
* Fall-winter-spring survey of raptors — HNWD’s primary bird consultant, Paul Kerlinger, said eagles may fly over the site on rare occasions, but their “use of the site will be minimal.” DGIF argues that without site-specific data, this statement is inadequate. The agency pointed to recent birding forays which documented more than 100 bald and golden eagle sightings in Highland County, including the first confirmed bald eagle nests. This information supports the common belief that Highland may provide important habitat for golden eagles during the winter, and possibly year-round, DGIF said.
 
* More bat surveys — HNWD’s bat overview did not address how bats may use watering holes on the ridges, DGIF said, adding that areas of water, even as small as road ruts, are very important to bats and are used extensively in the spring, summer, and fall.
 
Furthermore, DGIF believes HNWD’s bat acoustic study was insufficient because of the limited area to be sampled. The use of acoustical monitoring to predict bat deaths at wind plants is a new approach being tested by the scientific community, the agency said. Ed Arnett of Bat Conservation International and John Hayes of Oregon State University are studying this technique at a proposed wind facility in Pennsylvania. That facility will have 23 wind turbines in two strings. Their preliminary findings indicate the number of bat calls varies considerably, which was corroborated by HNWD’s bat consultant, Scott Reynolds, for a study at a different site, the reported explained. When questioned about small sample size, Reynolds said his study might only sample about 1 percent of the project area.
 
* Northern flying squirrels, rock voles, and water shrews — A 2005 survey by HNWD did not document northern flying squirrels on Red Oak Knob or along Tamarack Ridge, which had been previously documented in Highland County and on the property. But state agencies reviewing the report said it’s not clear whether the survey adequately sampled all 217 acres of the project site. The state endangered rock vole and water shrew, DGIF said, have been documented less than one mile from the project. DGIF recommends a qualified biologist conduct habitat assessments on all 217 acres.
 
* Laurel Fork — The amount of land disturbed near streams may result in a significant amount of sedimentation, DGIF said, thereby impacting trout and other aquatic species. Trout spawning, it said, is reduced as fine sediment increases. Among other things, DGIF recommends increasing setback of work spaces to at least 50 feet from each side of the streams.
 
* Ecotourism, viewshed and socioeconomic impacts to regional economy — HNWD has said that due to the remoteness of the project, which is “marred by only” two highways and one transmission line, the project site is “as good as it gets” in regard to the viewshed. It also said because viewshed was “thoroughly” addressed by the Highland County Board of Supervisors, it should not be addressed again. DGIF said it believes this response is insufficient to address its concerns about the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail and other wildlife-related recreation opportunities. As DGIF said earlier, a primary reason people travel to Highland is the very remoteness of the area and the high diversity of species relatively uncommon to Virginia, such as a known winter population of golden eagles.
 
DGIF noted the Highland County Chamber of Commerce has made a conscious effort to target ecotourism as an important contributor to the region’s economy and over the past several years, has seen a steady increase in the number of birders traveling to the county, even in January and February.
 
DGIF maintains neither HNWD nor county supervisors consulted with the chamber about ecotourism. The chamber has concerns about the project, it said, and believes more answers are needed regarding the potential for impacts; DGIF told DEQ it agrees.
 
Bear Mountain Farm and Wilderness Retreat is one of the most popular destinations for birders and other ecotourists visiting Highland, the agency said. Owners Tom Brody and Patti Reum believe the impact to their business will be significant, and they have received numerous comments from guests, many of whom have said they will not return to the county if the project is built.
 
DGIF recommends ecotourism impacts be considered as part of a socioeconomic analysis conducted through consultations with the chamber, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and operators of ecotourism companies/facilities such as Bear Mountain Farm.
 
* Cumulative impacts — There are already 88 wind turbines operating, 457 permitted, and 480 industrial wind turbines proposed or planned at 34 facilities within the Allegheny Highlands of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the report notes. An impact analysis must consider the cumulative impacts within the Allegheny Mountain region, DGIF says.
 
DGIF said the following questions have yet to be answered to its satisfaction: How do birds and bats currently use the Highland Project site? What correlations are there between bird and bat use and site characteristics? What might the cumulative effects of this project be upon those resources, both temporal and additive?
While the cumulative impacts to birds were briefly discussed by HNWD’s expert, DGIF said, “the cumulative impacts to bats have not been addressed. The only quantitative site-specific study, the fall 2005 radar study leads DGIF to believe the impacts to birds and/or bats may be greater than other projects in the east. This level of impact would be unacceptable.”
 
DGIF asked the SCC to note its concern and incorporate its recommendations as conditions of issuing a certificate to operate.
 
Concerns from the Department of Historic Resources
DHR, too, said information from HNWD is insufficient for the agency to provide full and final comment on the potential impacts on historic properties. It has expressed concern over the potential impacts to archaeological resources and indirect impacts to Camp Allegheny. DHR recommends:
n Viewshed analysis to determine from where the turbines would be seen;
 
* An architectural survey within the viewshed to see if individual historic structures or potential rural historic districts are present; and
 
* A comprehensive site plan, including detailed grading and construction plans so recommendations for an archaeological survey can be offered.
 
In addition, DHR said, HNWD’s claim the turbines would not be visible from the parking lot at Camp Allegheny is unsubstantiated with photo-simulation, and potential impacts to earthworks and other well-preserved components of the camp are not addressed.
 
DHR requested these and earlier DHR comments be addressed, and the necessary, additional information be provided for DHR consideration.
 
DHR said the success of its mission relies heavily on positive collaboration, and meaningful participation of all interested parties, such as the U.S. Forest Service, Civil War Preservation Trust, American Battlefield Protection Program, West Virginia SHPO, Virginia Council on Indians, and the concerned public, is vital.
 
Transportation
VDOT said there are no conflicts with current or future construction projects, and the project should not impact roads. VDOT requests:
 
* Any land use requirements, lane closures, traffic control or work zone safety issues be closely coordinated with the counties affected.
 
* All work with the potential to affect roadways be coordinated with the VDOT’s Verona Residency.
 
Department of Conservation and Recreation
DCR’s Division of Planning and Recreation Resources said HNWD’s application does not address the scenic and recreational impacts of the project. An analysis of the viewshed from Laurel Fork, a potential Virginia Scenic River, is necessary, it said. Also, an analysis of the viewshed from U.S. 250, which it describes as a potential Virginia Scenic Byway, is also needed.
 
The agency also pointed out it is responsible for developing the Virginia Outdoors Plan — Virginia’s comprehensive outdoor recreation and open space plan, which recognizes the importance of scenery to Virginians who drive for pleasure and visit parks and natural areas. Tourists who visit Virginia come in search of advertised scenic beauty, and tourist expenses contribute significantly to the state’s economy, the report says.
 
To ensure turbines are sited for the least impact to the scenery of Highland County, DCR requests HNWD use a recognized scenery impact assessment tool. The developer should conduct an analysis from U.S. 250 and U.S. 220; Laurel Fork, a potential scenic river; and other public overlooks such as Sounding Knob in the Highland Wildlife Management Area.
 
Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy
At HNWD’s request, DEQ sought guidance from DMME about Virginia’s policies on renewable energy. DMME provided information, but noted the policies do not negate the need for site-specific environmental analyses.
 
Last year’s Senate Bill 262 creates energy policy for Virginia. With proper planning, DMME said, HNWD’s project should be consistent with it by:
 
* Providing a reliable source of energy at reasonable costs;
 
* Diversifying Virginia’s electric supply infrastructure to help in the event of disruption to other parts of electric infrastructure;
 
* Increasing reliance on less polluting sources of energy; and
 
* Providing new power near existing electric transmission lines.
 
Aircraft flying over turbines
DEQ’s report says the Virginia Department of Aviation reviewed the project information and said it cannot make a determination on the impact to the closest airports — Ingalls Field and Bridgewater Air Park. DOA asked that HNWD coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration and the DOA to make certain development would not create negative impacts to the safety, utility, and expandability of the state’s air transportation system, including airports and airspace.
 
DEQ said to its knowledge, the FAA has not conducted its review of the proposal. Since it’s not customary for DEQ to coordinate an SCC application with federal agencies, the agency said, the Navy and the FAA were not invited to comment during its review.
 
In November 2005, DEQ received a letter from Highland citizens Patrick Lowry and Valerie Hilliard about the potential impacts on the flight path used by the Navy for the Military Training Routes in Highland. DEQ said it sent the letter to the SCC and Virginia Department of Aviation.


Source: http://therecorderonline.co...

JUL 7 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/3383-deq-issues-wind-report-but-info-still-found-lacking
back to top