BLM Announces Major Milestone and FWS Issues Record of Decision for Potential Eagle Take Permit for Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Phase I Wind Energy Project
As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, create jobs, and move our economy toward clean energy, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today announced the approval of the first 500 wind turbines for the Chokecherry Sierra Madre (CCSM) Wind Energy Project. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), after concluding a thorough analysis of the potential impacts to eagles from this major Wyoming wind energy project, also issued its record of Decision (ROD) today indicating that it would issue an Eagle Take Permit for Power Company of Wyoming’s (PCW) Chokecherry and CCSM when final mitigation plans are provided.
The 500 turbines represent Phase 1 of a two-phase proposed project that would build up to 1,000 wind turbines on almost 220,000 acres south of Rawlins, Wyoming. This project represents the largest proposed onshore wind energy facility in North America; when fully operational; the project will be capable of generating up to 3,000 megawatts of clean, renewable power, enough to power nearly one million homes.
The BLM issued the Final Environmental Assessment (EA) analyzing the potential impacts of constructing 500 wind turbines on mixed ownership land for public comment in March. The EA incorporates and builds on the analysis undertaken in a 2012 Final Environmental Impact Statement, which evaluated the potential impacts of the project as a whole. After considering public comments, the BLM prepared a Finding of No New Significant Impact (FONNSI) and Decision Record (DR) for this approval, both of which can be found at http://on.doi.gov/2ggwRi9.
The BLM administers approximately half of the land associated with the project site; the remainder of the site is made up of privately owned and state lands. Only a portion of the total land area would be used for or disturbed by the project. No ground-disturbing activities associated with the turbines can begin until the BLM issues a Right-of-Way (ROW) grant and Notice to Proceed.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with administering the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which allows for limited take of eagles under certain conditions. The Service analyzed the impacts of potentially issuing such a permit using an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Final EIS (FEIS) for CCSM analyzed a potential range of project alternatives and accompanying mitigation actions to determine the impacts of permitting limited eagle take. The Service evaluated four alternatives, including issuing the permit as requested in the application, issuing a permit with different eagle mitigation requirements, issuing a permit for the project at a smaller scale, or not issuing the permit.
Through this analysis, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that it could issue eagle take permits for the project as requested, which included significant avoidance, minimization, and compensatory mitigation measures. Those permits would cover any unavoidable disturbance of eagles during construction as well as take of eagles during the development’s ongoing operation for a five year period. The Service’s analysis indicated that it is likely that one to two bald eagles and 10-14 golden eagles per year would be harmed or killed by the CCSM project.
“Over 70 years ago, our nation made a clear statement about the importance of protecting eagles with the passage of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” said the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Regional Director, Noreen Walsh. “As the federal agency charged with implementing that law, the decision the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing today demonstrates that by working closely with industry, we can develop our nation’s wind resources in a way that conserves our extraordinary wildlife resources.”
Upon completion of final permit application requirements, PCW would be issued a “take” (disturb, injure or kill) permit that would cover the anticipated eagle impacts. Under federal regulations, compensatory mitigation is not required for bald eagles because their abundance can withstand the impacts of the project. However, any golden eagle taken must be compensated for to ensure golden eagle populations remain stable.
One current source of mortality for golden eagles is electrocution on power poles that are not constructed to bird-friendly standards. Electrocutions occur when eagles contact two energized points, or an energized point and a “path to ground.” Existing power poles that are not bird-friendly can be retrofitted to reduce these risks. As part of their project, PCW has committed to providing compensatory mitigation by reducing this ongoing source of mortality. By retrofitting existing power poles that pose an electrocution hazard to eagles, they can reduce the level of ongoing mortality in order to compensate for any mortality that may occur from their wind turbines. The amount of take that will be permitted is deliberately conservative, meaning that the compensatory mitigation measures required of the operator will likely exceed their impact, providing a net benefit to golden eagles.
The thoughtful and detailed collaboration that occurred between PCW and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to arrive at a project design that supports renewable energy and safeguards golden eagles is not a new approach. The Service regularly works in partnership with developers to protect our nation’s wildlife while facilitating energy production.
The entire project is expected to support 1,200 jobs at peak construction, and is also expected to create more than 100 permanent positions in operations and maintenance. Phase I of the project is estimated to generate almost $200 million in property-tax revenue during construction and over the first 20 years of operation. PCW estimates Phase I will also contribute $116 million from sales taxes and $118 million from a state wind-electricity tax over 20 years.
The U.S. Secretary of the Interior approved the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision for the overall CCSM project in 2012. The 2012 EIS required additional reviews for specific components of the project including roads, associated infrastructure, and turbine construction. Since then, the infrastructure needs and turbine development have been analyzed under separate EAs. The infrastructure EA analyzed potential impacts from the site-specific plans including haul roads, a rail distribution facility, and rock quarry. No new or significant impacts were identified beyond those already analyzed in the project EIS. The Decision Record and FONNSI for the infrastructure EA were approved in 2014.
Since 2009, the BLM has approved 60 renewable energy projects on public lands, including 36 utility-scale solar facilities; 11 wind energy projects and 13 geothermal plants, with total capacity when completed to generate up to 15,567 megawatts (MW) of power.
For more information, or to access the EA, DR, or FONNSI, please visit the BLM’s CCSM ePlanning site. For additional questions, please contact Heather Schultz at 307-328-4215.
This year, we invite everyone to reimagine your public lands as we celebrate 75 years of the BLM’s stewardship and service to the American people. The BLM manages approximately 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The agency’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.