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Wind Power Siting
The AMC is committed to promoting clean alternative energy sources to help reduce damage to mountain ecosystems from air pollution and climate change. Wind power releases no air pollutants or greenhouse gases, but its commercial development in the Northeast is not without impacts to some of the very resources we are seeking to protect.
In our region, winds strong enough to support large-scale land-based wind power development are limited to ridgelines, with the strongest winds at higher elevations. These are the least developed parts of our landscape, and are often areas of high ecological, recreational and scenic value. Meeting the region’s renewable energy goals could result in the development of many miles of mountain ridgeline. If this development is not carefully sited, the result could be the fragmentation of undeveloped lands, destruction of rare subalpine forest habitat, and the degradation of spectacular scenic vistas.
AMC’s Wind Power Policy is included within the club’s broader Energy Policies. The policy sets forth AMC’s belief that “human actions are accelerating the rate of climate change, and this change poses a serious risk to society and the region’s ecosystems. AMC recognizes that wind power and other renewable energy sources must have a substantive role in reducing greenhouse gas and air pollution emissions in our region.” The policy sets forth our belief in the need for strong state policies and regulations that set specific criteria for determining suitable sites for development. It also includes guidelines by which AMC will evaluate specific projects.
AMC’s work on wind power development is guided by the following principles:
AMC is committed to promoting the use of clean alternative energy to reduce air pollution and protect the region’s mountain environment from the effects of climate change.
AMC recognizes that commercial wind power development is not without negative impacts on some of the very resources we seek to protect.
AMC seeks to direct wind power development away from ecologically sensitive areas, and encourages state to adopt consistent wind power siting guidelines.
AMC focuses its wind power review efforts on projects with the potential to impact resources of state, regional or national significance.
AMC’s perspective on wind power development is also set forth in a white paper developed in cooperation with other environmental organizations.
Wind Power Public policy
AMC works to promote the development of state policies and regulations that address the specific characteristics of wind power development, provide a high level of protection to important natural resources, and guide development to suitable sites. To date our work has been focused in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
AMC served as an alternate member of the Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development. The recommendations of the Task Force were enacted into law in 2008. The new law provided a streamlined permitting path for wind power development in portions of the state deemed most suitable for this development, while retaining existing protection for natural resources. The law also changed the approach to evaluating scenic impacts in recognition of wind power’s unique visual aspects, while retaining strong protection for scenic resources of state and national significance.
Since 2008, greater experience with wind power development, combined with changes in both technology and the regulatory environment, have made it clear that improvements to the 2008 law were needed. In recent years AMC has worked with other organizations to enact several improvements to the law, including:
Providing stronger protection to rare high-elevation habitat occupied by Bicknell’s thrush, one of the region’s rarest migratory songbirds.
Requiring the use of “best practical mitigation” to minimize unavoidable impacts from development.
Requiring the consideration of the cumulative impact of multiple projects on important scenic resources.
One major improvement to the law that is still needed is a change in the way visual impacts are considered. The 2008 law limited consideration of visual impacts to a distance of 8 miles from a project. However, since 2008 the size of commercial wind turbines has increased from under 400 feet tall to nearly 600 feet, with even taller turbines likely in the near future. These larger turbines are visible at much greater distances. We have been working and will continue to work with other organization to expand the distance for which visual impacts must be considered in project permitting, at least for the most significant scenic viewpoints such as the Appalachian Trail.
AMC, working in cooperation with the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, convened an ad-hoc group of stakeholders that developed Conceptual Wind Power Siting Guidelines for permitting and siting wind power in the state. The group included representatives of conservation organizations, the wind power industry, state agencies, and municipal interests. The guidelines were presented to the legislatively-established Energy Policy Commission and included in the commission’s 2008 final report to the legislature. Since that time AMC has promoted the adoption of these guidelines into official state policy or regulation. In 2013, the legislature passed SB99, which would require the Site Evaluation Committee (which is responsible for permitting major energy projects in the state) to develop specific criteria for the permitting of wind power and other energy projects.
AMC was actively involved with a coalition of other environmental organizations in the rule-making process. The revised rules adopted in 2015 adopted many of our recommendations and provided clearer and stronger guidance to how impacts on natural, scenic and historic resources would be evaluated during permitting decisions
AMC served on the Renewable Energy Siting Task Force, established by the Green Communities Act of 2008. The Task Force drafted legislation that would create a more straightforward permitting process for wind power projects, while directing the state to develop standards for siting projects that are at least as protective of natural resource values as existing state regulations. The legislation has not advanced in the legislature but if enacted AMC will continue to play an active role in the development of the siting standards.
AMC has been a strong advocate for the use of radar-activated lighting (RAL), which would reduce nighttime light pollution by activating the flashing aircraft warning lights only when radar detected an aircraft in the vicinity of a project. In late 2015 the Federal Aviation Administration approved the use of this technology for wind power projects. AMC believes that the use of this technology should be required for all future projects.
Wind power development on public lands is being considered across the region. The Green Mountain National Forest has approved the first proposal for wind power development on any National Forest, and development on state lands has been a topic of considerable discussion, particularly in Massachusetts and Vermont. AMC has been urging public land managers to update and clarify their land management plans to address wind power development, and to conduct comprehensive assessments of their land holdings to determine what areas (if any) could be considered for development without compromising the high level of resource protection expected of public lands.
Wind Power Research
AMC uses a GIS-based approach to understand the relationship between potential wind power development sites and identified ecological, recreational and scenic resources of state or national significance. The purpose of this research is to understand the potential conflicts between wind power development and important natural resource values across the landscape, and to identify areas of high resource value that are inappropriate for development.
Impacts to Scenic Resources
As wind power development has expanded across the region, the scenic impact of wind turbines has emerged as a particularly contentious issue. In Maine there are now 14 grid-scale projects spanning the state from Aroostook County to the Downeast and Western Mountain regions. The size of turbines is also increasing, from under 400 feet tall in 2008 to nearly 600 feet today. This study was undertaken to better understand the impact that this technology has had (and may have in the future) on high value scenic resources in Maine.
We evaluated the presence of existing wind power projects and as well as proposed and potential future development within 8 and 15 miles of a selected set of high value scenic resources (28 open mountain summits and 31 large lakes) as well as the 346 great ponds that are considered under current law. We also reviewed permitting decisions to understand how these impacts have been considered by state regulatory agencies and whether current permitting standards are adequate to fully evaluate these impacts. Finally, we make several recommendations for changes to permitting regulations that would improve the evaluation of potentially significant impacts.
The Impact of Wind Power Development on High Value Scenic Resources in Maine (November 2019):
Ridgeline Conflict Analysis
The first approach utilized ridgelines as individual study units. Ridgelines with high wind resource were identified from published wind resource data. These ridgelines were then assessed for the presence of natural resource values such as rare natural vegetation communities, wildlife habitat, roadless areas, steep slopes and hiking trails. The result is a composite resource value for each ridgeline. A pilot study using the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts tested this approach successfully with a stakeholder oversight committee. This approach was then applied to a more thorough analysis of the state of Maine.
This assessment is not the final word on siting wind power. Not all factors that go into siting a wind power project are included in the analysis, and statewide data for some resources is incomplete or unavailable. However, this “first cut” assessment does identify ridgelines or broader mountain regions with known high resource values that make them incompatible with and unsuitable for wind power development. It also provides initial guidance for wind power developers as to which ridgelines have few if any known conflicts with state or nationally significant resources.
AMC and Wind Power (Video)
A Methodology for Assessing Conflicts Between Windpower Development and Other Land Uses ( Berkshire pilot study – AMC Technical Report, PDF, 550 KB)
Assessing Potential Conflicts Between Wind Power Development and Other Land Uses (Poster, PDF, 1.4 MB)
Balancing Windpower Development and Open Space Conservation: An Analytical Approach to Evaluating Potential Conflicts and Promoting Appropriate Siting (Poster presented at the 2006 American Wind Energy Association Annual Meeting, PDF, 1.3 MB)
Ridgeline Wind Power Development in Maine: An Analysis of Potential Natural Resource Conflicts ( AMC Technical Report, PDF, 3.4 MB)
Northeastern High Elevation Area Assessment
As the next step in this research, AMC is evaluating the conservation status, current condition and ecological value of all areas of high elevation land across New England and New York. Areas above 2700 feet in elevation comprise a small fraction of the regional landscape, but provide critical habitat values and have an important role to play in allowing the region’s ecosystems to adapt to future climate change. High-elevation spruce-fir and subalpine forests are recognized in many regional wildlife conservation plans as a distinct and significant habitat. Among other values, this forest type provides the critical habitat for Bicknell’s thrush, a species of global conservation concern and the northeast’s rarest migratory songbird. Wind power development within high-elevation subalpine forest has been the most controversial ecological issue facing this technology in the region. This research assesses the condition and relative ecological value of high-elevation areas across the region as a guide to future conservation and to better identify unprotected areas of high-elevation habitat that are not suitable for development. A final project report is in preparation.
As part of this work we have developed an on-line Google Earth application (download kmz) that provides extensive information on these areas in a web-accessible map-based format. The application shows all areas above 2700 feet across the region, provides data on the presence of a wide range of identified ecological values within each area, and includes additional data layers on conservation lands, documented and potential subalpine forest occurrences, development and timber harvesting.
High-Elevation Spruce-Fir Forest in the Northern Forest: An Assessment of Ecological Value and Conservation Priorities (Paper submitted to proceedings of 2012 ECANUSA Forest Science Conference)
Subalpine and High-elevation Spruce-fir Forest in the Northeast: An Assessment of Ecological Value and Conservation Priorities (Poster presented at the 2011 Northeast Alpine Research Workshop)