Regulators Extend Duration Of Eagle Take Permits
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have announced rule changes related to eagle take permits. The revised regulations extend the permit tenure, significantly increase fees and allow permits to be transferable to new owners of projects.
As the DOI explains, in 2009, the FWS began a permitting program under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act applicable to developers of renewable energy projects and other activities that may “take” (i.e., injure, kill or otherwise disturb) bald and golden eagles. The act allows the FWS to authorize the programmatic take of eagles so long as such action does not have a long-term impact on the population.
However, these permits have been for a maximum of five years – a period that does not reflect the actual operating parameters of most renewable energy projects or other similar long-term project operations, the DOI says. Therefore, the agency has extended the maximum permit tenure to 30 years, subject to a recurring five-year review process throughout the permit life.
According to the DOI, only applicants that commit to adaptive management measures to ensure the preservation of eagles will be considered for permits with terms longer than five years. Any such increased measures, which would be implemented if monitoring shows that initial permit conditions do not provide sufficient protection, will be negotiated with the permittee and specified in the terms and conditions of the permit.
“Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation’s future, but it has to be done in the right way,” says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations.”
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has welcomed the new tenure rule. In a statement, the group says the extension will “provide conservation benefits for eagles while granting wind energy companies and other potential permittees – such as oil and gas exploration and production, mining, military bases, airports, telecommunication tower developers, utility line owners, etc. – a degree of longer-term legal and financial certainty, which is important to the viability of any business.”
AWEA notes that it looks forward to working with regulators on any future rule revisions, adding, “[T]he wind industry has taken the most proactive and leading role of any utility-scale energy source to minimize wildlife impacts in general, and specifically for eagles, through constantly improving siting and monitoring techniques.”
The revised regulations also increase the fees to be charged for processing programmatic permit applications.
Under the new rules, the price for such permits has jumped from $1,000 to $36,000. However, the DOI says the processing fee for programmatic permits for “low-risk projects,” those expected to have negligible effects on eagles, is $8,000. In addition, the FWS will collect permit administration fees totaling $2,600 for each five-year period the permit is in effect.
According to the DOI, the fee changes reflect what it has discovered to be the true cost to the FWS of developing adaptive conservation measures and monitoring the effectiveness of the terms and conditions of the permits.
Permits also will now be transferable to new owners of projects, provided that any successor is qualified and committed to carrying out the conditions of the permit, the DOI adds. The fee for the transfer of a programmatic permit is $1,000.
Call For Action
With critical federal tax incentives set to expire on Dec. 31, a massive coalition has sent President Barack Obama a letter calling for swift, bold action by his administration to facilitate the development of U.S. offshore wind power.
The letter was signed by Environment America, the National Wildlife Federation, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Southern Environmental Law Center, as well as over 230 organizations, small businesses and elected officials.
“Climate change is the single greatest threat to America’s wildlife this century, and properly sited offshore wind power is an essential part of the solution,” says Catherine Bowes, senior manager for climate and energy at the National Wildlife Federation. “Our ability to fight climate change and re-power America with pollution-free energy hinges on bold action from our federal and state leaders. Congress must renew the offshore wind investment tax credit immediately to jump-start this critical new clean energy source for America.”
The organizations have lauded offshore wind power as a promising alternative to U.S. power plants and a way to help mitigate extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy. Jonathan Peress, director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Clean Energy and Climate Program, adds, “Offshore wind is the largest available resource to make the transformation to clean energy. Tapping into this resource will also enhance energy security and provide economic benefits, including against volatile fossil fuel prices.”
The groups note that President Obama has made significant commitments to renewable energy in recent months. On Dec. 5, he issued a presidential memorandum directing the federal government to pursue a goal of deriving 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. In June, Obama announced his Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution. In addition to placing national limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the plan called for doubling the amount of renewable energy generated on federally controlled land and waters.
Nonetheless, the letter calls on the president and his administration to build on this progress and do the following:
- Set a bold goal for offshore wind development in the Atlantic, consistent with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) current goal of 54 GW by 2030.
- Support critical investments in offshore wind power, including federal incentives and support for federal research, development and deployment programs at both the DOI and DOE.
- Spur markets for offshore wind power through power purchase commitments and collaboration among key agencies, including the federal Departments of Defense, Energy and Commerce with state and regional economic development and energy agencies.
- Ensure that offshore wind projects are sited, built and operated responsibly in order to avoid, minimize and mitigate conflicts with marine life and other ocean uses. The letter says wind energy development should be consistent with the National Ocean Policy and key state and regional planning efforts.
Wind, Natural Gas
Can Coexist In Texas
The future of the Texas electric market will very likely include substantial amounts of both renewable energy and natural gas-fired power, economists with The Brattle Group find in a new report prepared for the Texas Clean Energy Coalition (TCEC).
TCEC Chairman Kip Averitt, a former state senator and chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, says the report uses state-of-the-art modeling in a series of scenarios – including a range of natural gas prices, a required reserve margin, and different wind and solar energy costs – to simulate the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid system through 2032.
“The objective of this report was to examine broad patterns of interaction between renewable resources and natural gas over the next two decades,” explains Averitt. “The report illustrates the key drivers of gas and renewable development in ERCOT to better inform Texas policymakers and decision-makers about the range of possible outcomes.”
With more than 12 GW of installed capacity, Texas is the largest state producer of wind-powered electricity in the U.S., according to the report. At the same time, the report adds, Texas is the leading U.S. producer of natural gas, generating over 40% of its electricity from natural gas plants.
In June, The Brattle Group produced a preliminary study for the TCEC that found the relationship between natural gas and renewables had aspects that were both complementary and, in some cases, substitutive. In this new report, the Brattle team examines the future of gas and renewable power in Texas analytically through the simulation of several grid-expansion scenarios.
Key findings include the following:
- Under the range of scenarios, natural gas and renewables both play substantial roles in ERCOT and provide all new generation needed to respond to growth in the state’s population. No new coal plants are built in any scenarios.
- Across the more likely scenarios, wind and solar grow from their current 10% generation share to levels between 25% and 43%. Natural gas-fired generation provides all of the remaining incremental generation, adding 12 GW to 25 GW of new combined-cycle capacity – a 38% to 80% increase in the current installed base.
- The mix of new gas and renewables generation is sensitive to the price of natural gas and cost declines in wind and solar power. The report says changes in these three factors can cause significant shifts in the mix of future installations, leading to a wide range of plausible generation shares for wind, solar and natural gas.
- The study says it found that the ERCOT system could accommodate all levels of variable renewables likely to occur during this period with no reliability problems. However, accommodating higher levels of renewables required the model to use an additional ancillary service – known as the intraday commitment option – and adjust the levels of current ancillary services.
- The analysis shows that federal production tax credit and ERCOT ratepayer funding of new transmission lines remain important drivers of wind development.
- A reserve margin has a very small overall effect on the generation mix or emissions in ERCOT through 2032. However, the report says scenarios using higher gas prices and lower renewables costs reduce the growth of CO2, NOX and SO2 substantially. A stringent federal carbon policy reduces 2032 CO2 by 66% versus 2012, the report adds.
- Existing coal units in ERCOT remain profitable and are not retired unless a relatively stringent federal carbon policy is adopted. A federal carbon policy requiring 90% capture and storage of carbon, for example, would prompt the retirement of most ERCOT coal units.
- Under the strong federal carbon policy scenario, gas and renewable generation would together replace the energy formerly supplied by coal plants. In this case, renewable energy could rise to become 43% of ERCOT generation by 2032.
Power Co. of Wyoming LLC (PCW) has announced another development regarding the federal permitting of its massive Chokecherry and Sierra Madre (CCSM) Wind Energy Project, a 3 GW wind farm planned for southeastern Wyoming.
The company says it is submitting a comprehensive eagle conservation plan, along with an application for a programmatic eagle permit, to the FWS for environmental review and approval.
Recently, the issue of avian protection at wind farms entered the national spotlight when a Duke Energy subsidiary reached a $1 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The company was fined in relation to the deaths of golden eagles and other migratory birds at two of its wind farms in Wyoming.
PCW says that its CCSM project of up to 1,000 wind turbines has already been analyzed by federal officials in a final environmental impact statement (EIS) published by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in June 2012, and the site was authorized by the DOI in October of that year.
According to PCW, its eagle conservation plan is built on a foundation of years of scientific data-gathering and wildlife monitoring. The eagle permit application will be analyzed in an EIS by the FWS, and the permit would cover PCW’s first phase of 500 wind turbines.
Under the agency’s 2009 Eagle Permit Rule that applies to a variety of activities, the FWS may “authorize the limited take of bald eagles and golden eagles under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, where the take to be authorized is associated with otherwise lawful activities,” such as generating wind energy.
To assist in its preparation of the EIS, the FWS is conducting a 60-day public scoping period, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
“As a responsible energy developer, PCW is demonstrating its commitment to the preservation of eagles by implementing all practical measures to avoid and minimize potential eagle takes,” says Garry Miller, PCW vice president of land and environmental affairs.
In addition to the eagle conservation plan, PCW says it is submitting an avian protection plan related to other migratory birds. The company has been developing both plans based on ongoing discussions with the FWS since 2010.
When PCW determines it will proceed with Phase II wind development, the company says it will submit a Phase II Plan of Development to the BLM for environmental review and a Phase II Eagle Conservation Plan and permit application to the FWS for environmental review.
The 2012 BLM record of decision stated that the agency will not issue PCW a notice to proceed to construction without the FWS’ concurrence on eagle conservation plans.
New England Govs.
Take Aim At Energy
New England’s governors have signed an agreement committing their six states to an energy initiative they say is designed to bring affordable, cleaner and more reliable power to homes and businesses across the Northeast. According to the governors, this initiative will accelerate regional cooperation on expanding renewable energy and energy infrastructure in New England.
The governors have directed their staffs to continue working together over the next few months – through the New England States Committee on Electricity and in cooperation with ISO-New England, operator of the region’s electric grid network – to develop a regional strategy that “meets our common needs and goals.”
In a joint statement, the governors say that “securing the future of the New England economy and environment requires strategic investments in our region’s energy resources and infrastructure … New England ratepayers can benefit if the states collaborate to advance our common goals.” The agreement also seeks to ensure that “the benefits and costs of transmission and pipeline investments are shared appropriately among the New England states.”
According to the governors, the agreement calls attention to the fact that the region’s electric and natural gas systems have become “increasingly interdependent,” creating a need for cooperative investments in energy efficiency, new and existing renewable generation, natural gas pipelines, and electric transmission. Such investments, the agreement adds, “support local markets and result in additional cost savings, new jobs and economic opportunities, and environmental gains,” and must “be advanced in a coordinated approach in order to maximize ratepayer savings and system integrity.”
The governors note that their initiative “must respect individual state perspectives, particularly those of host states, as well as the natural resources, environment and economy of the states, and ensure that the citizens and other stakeholders of our region, including the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL), are involved in the process.”
The agreement for the Regional Energy Infrastructure Initiative was signed by Govs. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut; Paul LePage of Maine; Deval L. Patrick of Massachusetts; Margaret Wood Hassan of New Hampshire; Lincoln D. Chafee of Rhode Island; and Peter Shumlin of Vermont.
“This is an economically and environmentally important collaboration,” says Gov. Patrick. “By expanding opportunities for large-scale hydro, wind and other renewable energy sources, we are putting thousands of our residents to work and creating a healthier region for the next generation.” w
New & Noteworthy
Regulators Extend Duration Of Eagle Take Permits
NAW_body NAW_body_bi NAW_body_b_i NAW_body_bNAW_body_i