The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Western Area Power Administration, as joint lead agencies, said in a notice to be published in the July 7 Federal Register that they are issuing a record of decision on the Upper Great Plains Wind Energy Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Final PEIS), which was issued in May 2015.
The service has decided to implement Alternative 1, as described in the Final PEIS and summarized in the Record of Decision (ROD). Alternative 1 was identified as both the agency-preferred alternative and the environmentally preferred alternative.
In response to an increase in wind energy development in the Upper Great Plains Region (UGP Region), which encompasses all or parts of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, service and the Western Area Power Administration have prepared the Final PEIS to streamline their procedures for conducting environmental reviews of wind energy applications by implementing standardized evaluation procedures and identifying measures to address potential environmental impacts associated with wind energy projects in the UGP Region.
The service and Western cooperatively prepared the PEIS to: assess the potential environmental impacts associated with wind energy projects within the UGP Region that may propose placement of project elements on grassland or wetland easements managed by the service, or that may interconnect to Western’s transmission system; and evaluate how environmental impacts would differ under alternative sets of environmental evaluation procedures, best management practices, avoidance strategies, and mitigation measures that the agencies would request project developers to implement, as appropriate, for specific wind energy projects.
Four alternatives, including the No Action alternative, were analyzed in the PEIS. The PEIS analyzes, to the extent practicable, the impacts resulting from development of wind energy projects and the effectiveness of best management practices (BMPs), avoidance of sensitive areas, and mitigation measures in reducing potential impacts. Impacts and mitigation have been analyzed for each environmental resource, and all components of wind energy projects have been addressed, including turbines, transformers, collector lines, overhead lines, access roads, substation installations, and operational and maintenance activities.
A programmatic biological assessment (Programmatic BA) has been prepared for listed and candidate species occurring in the UGP Region. Development of the Programmatic BA was closely coordinated with the service’s North Dakota Ecological Services Field Office. That office issued a letter of concurrence with the Programmatic BA in July 2015 as a result of this consultation.
The agencies also investigated a programmatic approach to section 106 consultations under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Since section 106 consultations are highly site-specific, it was determined that effective consultation could be accomplished only once an individual project location was defined. However, general avoidance and protection measures for cultural resources and historic properties that would be implemented were identified and included in the analysis.