Library filed under Impact on Birds from Wyoming
Horizon Wind Energy has suspended development of the Simpson Ridge wind farm in Carbon County because of Wyoming's rigid position on protecting key sage grouse habitat. Houston-based Horizon is not scrapping the project, but is placing it on hold indefinitely, project manager Nate Sandvig said Friday.
Wyoming's wind energy boom is stalling amid growing confusion over state regulations designed to protect environmentally sensitive sage grouse and how those rules should apply to wind power projects. Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy announced last week that it is indefinitely suspending plans to build a 300-megawatt-capacity wind farm that would have occupied one of dozens of state-designated "sage grouse core areas" deemed essential to protecting the imperiled bird.
The Uinta County Commissioners voted unanimously to deny two conditional use permits that would have allowed an additional 120 wind turbines on Bridger Butte. Bridger Butte Wind Power and Bridger Butte Wind Power II, being run by Tasco Engineering, wanted to add the turbines in the general area of Bigelow Road, and extending southward from the current project.
They used to mine coal in the abandoned town of Carbon. Now this patch of southern Wyoming is a battleground in the debate over what many hope will be the clean energy source of the future: wind power. At the heart of the dispute are plans to build a network of wind farms in the American West that conservationists fear could disrupt threatened habitat such as sage brush, a dwindling piece of the region's fragile ecosystem.
Project manager Nate Sandvig said Friday the company has decided not to submit a permit application to the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council based on the state's recent decision not to allow wind energy development in key sage grouse habitats. ... Earlier this month, Gov. Dave Freudenthal's chief of staff, Ryan Lance, said the decision not to allow wind energy in sage grouse core areas came after consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A decision to block wind energy development from key sage grouse habitats in Wyoming could effectively nullify a significant portion of the state's wind energy resource. But exactly how much is unclear. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the sage grouse as a threatened and endangered species. Half of the bird's remaining prime habitat in the West lies within Wyoming's borders.
Cheyenne Wind developers have asked the Department of the Interior to review Wyoming's sage grouse protection policy in light of the state's recent hard-line stance against building wind farms in important habitat areas for the chicken-sized birds. ...Wind developers say they're concerned that Wyoming's position could "abruptly halt wind energy development in Wyoming's sage-grouse 'core areas'.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it opposes construction of any wind farms in Wyoming's core sage grouse population areas, a position that wind developers say could have a chilling effect on their plans in the state. Brian Kelly, supervisor in the agency's Wyoming field office, made the comments in a letter Tuesday responding to an inquiry from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
A utility company on Friday agreed to a settlement of more than $10 million following the electrocution of dozens of eagles, hawks, owls and other birds in Wyoming. PacifiCorp pleaded guilty to 34 violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Shickich in Casper ordered the utility to pay a $510,000 fine and $900,000 in restitution.
The state's recent decision not to allow wind development in critical sage grouse habitat essentially takes 75 percent of Wyoming's best wind resources off the table, according to one independent wind energy company. In response, wind developers are teaming up with wildlife agencies across nine western states to launch a $10 million, five-year research effort.
This page contains links to letters sent between the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wild Service regarding whether wind power development is permitted in Wyoming's 'core sage grouse habitat area'. Brian Kelly of the USFWS states in his letter that “ . . . constructing wind farms in core areas, even for research purposes, prior to demonstrating it can be done with no impact to sage grouse, negates the usefulness of the core area concept as a conservation strategy and brings into question whether adequate regulatory mechanisms are in place to protect the species.”
The federal government has charged PacifiCorp and Exxon Mobil Corp. in two unrelated cases with killing scores of migratory birds in Wyoming, according to court documents filed last week in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne. PacifiCorp, which does business in Wyoming as Rocky Mountain Power, is charged in a 34-count criminal information document with the deaths of 38 golden eagles at power poles in six counties from December 2007 to February 2009.
State officials recently reached a decision not to allow wind development -- or even a pilot study -- in Wyoming's sage grouse core areas. It's a potentially huge blow to several wind development projects, including Horizon Wind Energy's Simpson Ridge project and Power Company of Wyoming's Sierra Madre and Chokecherry wind projects -- all in Carbon County. Gov. Dave Freudenthal issued the core areas sage grouse management plan by executive order in August 2008.
Federal officials are again delaying whether to list sage grouse in 11 Western states as threatened or endangered -- leaving in limbo until at least 2010 a spate of industries that could face sweeping restrictions if the bird is protected. The chicken-sized grouse ranges from Montana to California alongside livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling and an increasing number of wind power turbines.
Development of wind energy and sage grouse protection are on a collision course in Wyoming, where state officials are worried that a future Endangered Species Act listing for the chicken-like bird could ruin the golden egg laid by the Obama administration's renewable energy mandates. ..."The bird does well in the existing conditions that are out here. It's the new threat from wind energy that has got us so worried," said Aaron Clark, special adviser on energy infrastructure to Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D). "I don't think you could justify a [federal endangered species] listing for that bird in Wyoming without the threat from wind development."
In the high-stakes game of preserving sage grouse, biologists say they're still figuring out how the birds will react to the influx of wind turbines rising up from the wide-open sagebrush plains where the birds evolved. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 15 months ago commenced a review of whether sage grouse should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Freudenthal's executive order consists of 12 guidelines and a map of "core" areas where the stipulations could be implemented. "The executive order does not create any new authority and legally only applies to state agencies, but is a vehicle to at least align the existing authorities of state government to ensure that we move forward under a more unified framework," Freudenthal said in a prepared statement. New development will not be prohibited within the state-identified "core areas," but several stipulations may apply in order to demonstrate that activity will result in no loss of sage grouse or sage grouse habitat, according to the executive order. Reclamation efforts and fire suppression will be "enhanced" in the core areas.