Game and Fish drafts new solar energy guidelines
SUBLETTE COUNTY – With potential growth of large-scale renewable-energy projects, Wyoming Game and Fish posted its new guidelines drafted for utility-scale renewable energy development.
It adds new solar energy project guidelines and updates its 2010 wind energy recommendations. Game and Fish Commissioners will be asked to vote to approve it on Thursday, Jan. 28, the first day of their two-day videoconference meeting. Deputy Director Angi Bruce and Habitat Protection Supervisor Amanda Losch will make the presentation around 1:45 p.m.
They call it “a living document” that will be “continuously expanding” with new research about “potential consequences.” Stakeholders are encouraged to submit comments and questions to the Wyoming Game and Fish Habitat Protection Program.
While renewable energy projects provide environmental benefits for society, they can have negative impacts on fish and wildlife and their habitats, the document notes. As with oil and gas, these could be “habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation” or limits on human recreation.
Game and Fish would review each project individually and in a larger landscape context, it says.
The guidelines “do not duplicate or supersede other legal or permitting requirements and do not mandate or limit the types of studies, mitigation or alternatives an agency or permitting authority may choose to recommend or require.”
Most important is “appropriate project siting,” it says. Game and Fish anticipates early communication from a proposed project sponsor “concurrently with other permitting agencies” at the preliminary planning stages – at least two years before anticipated construction.
When selecting potential locations, a company would submit a project description, baseline data and biological and watershed assessments. Game and Fish would review these and give advice and feedback. A third step is to develop measures to “alleviate direct and indirect impacts to fish and wildlife into project planning.”
Game and Fish would conduct a “wildlife environmental review,” return written recommendations and identify concerns. Next, the proponent would submit a draft monitoring plan and Game and Fish would “advise on the need for and design of any additional studies or monitoring.”
The fifth step – mitigation – addresses and assesses a project’s adaptive management strategies; Game and Fish would discuss those and assess their effectiveness, it says. Other local, state and federal agencies will also be involved with Game and Fish as adviser.
The 2021 document gives many more specific details on what Game and Fish wants to know during this review process, what mitigation measures are preferred – and why.
Wildlife issues associated with both solar and wind projects are aquatic resources, bats, threatened or endangered species, bald and golden eagles, greater sage-grouse core habitat, big game habitats, corridors and “important areas for seasonal movement, staging, wintering, foraging, roosting, nesting, resting, raptor flight paths, orographic uplift or thermal updrafts for birds or other special status species.”
Current land uses, zoning, access and potential cumulative impacts are also considerations for suitable wind and solar projects, along with invasive weeds, roads, seasonal timing and Injured or stranded wildlife.
Specific to solar energy projects are concerns about birds or wildlife being caught in or poisoned evaporation ponds or killed by power lines. Water conservation will be a priority.
Issues with wind projects involve turbine controls, locations away from roosting, nesting and feeding sites and seasonal buffers for raptor nests. Others measures are needed to prevent night-flying birds and collisions for migrating birds or raptors by ridges. Animal carcasses are removed from a site to avoid attracting scavengers.
Direct any new research and input to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department – Habitat Protection Program, 5400 Bishop Boulevard, Cheyenne, WY 82006 or [email protected].
For more about the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission’s Jan. 28-29 videoconference meeting, agenda and draft renewable energy guidelines, go to https://wgfd.wyo.gov/About-Us/Game-and-Fish-Commission.