In the midst of much debate as to whether a threat of “global warming” and “global climate change” actually exists and, if it does, further debate as to whether wind-generated energy would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions sufficiently to have a measurable impact on global temperatures, one thing is certain – wind farms are here, and more are planned. And, as with all forms of energy generation, the siting, construction and operation of wind farms present a number of Federal and local environmental and legal issues.
At the Federal level, wind farm projects may be subject to environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). They may also be subject to challenge under the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Rivers and Harbors Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. (The Mineral Management Services (MMS) has authority to regulate alternative energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf.) Other regulatory issues include Bureau of Land Management (BLM) policies for wind energy projects proposed for land managed by BLM, and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) special use permit requirements for wind energy projects proposed on USFS managed land. Wind farm projects proposed near airports or military airfields must be evaluated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to determine if they would be an obstruction or hazard to air navigation or interfere with surveillance radar. Wind farm projects can sometimes impact tribal rights.
Potential state and local issues include state environmental review, project siting, permitting and licensing, zoning and surrounding land uses, land leases and easements, turbine noise, vibration (“aerodynamic modulation”), shadow flicker, visual impacts and aesthetic concerns, perceived health effects of wind turbines, interference with electromagnetic transmissions (radio, television and cell phone signals) and claims for declines in tourism and property values. There can also be issues concerning technical requirements, safety, insurance and liabilities on the part of developers, landowners and operators.
These and other wind farm related issues are being litigated, and will continue to be litigated in increasing numbers, in state and Federal courts. The litigation ranges from a case pending in a North Dakota District Court, in which the City of Wishek is seeking to force a homeowner to remove a single wind turbine from his yard, to the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, located in waters five miles off Cape Cod and recently approved by the FAA and the Department of Interior, which opponents have vowed will “be in litigation for years.”