Wind energy permitting and siting directives finalized

The U.S. Forest Service issued final directives for wind energy special use authorizations. The directives supplement existing Forest Service guidance on wildlife and special uses, but address issues associated with permitting and siting wind energy facilities.

Like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service offers three types of authorizations for wind energy uses: Minimum area permits, which authorize land use for the minimum area necessary for the construction, operation and removal of site testing facilities; project area permits, which are issued for more than five acres and exclude uses of the authorized area by other project proponents; and a third permit for the construction, operation and removal of wind energy facilities.

Unlike the BLM, however, the Forest Service is required to evaluate whether a competitive interest exists when considering  an application for a project area permit.

Site testing and feasibility permits may be issued for up to five years. However, equipment must be installed and operational within two years after issuance, and test results must be reported within three years after issuance.

Other key provisions of the draft guidance include:

  • The directives require the Forest Service to consider impacts to “species of management concern,” which includes listed and candidate species as well as “species of high public interest” and state-protected species.
  • The directives also require the Forest Service, “if possible and practical,” to restrict noise to 10 decibels above the background noise level at nearby residences and campsites; in or near habitat of wildlife known to be sensitive to noise during reproduction, roosting or hibernation; or where habitat abandonment may be an issue.
  • The directives retain the categorical exclusion for minor special uses, including METs, using less than five contiguous acres of land.

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