Permitting Wind Energy Projects

Few people really appreciate how long the permitting and approvals stage of the development process can be, particularly for renewable energy projects that are among the first of their kind in a particular jurisdiction.

ANTARES was recently contracted by a county in the mid-Atlantic to evaluate a Special Exception Permit (SEP) application filed by a developer who wishes to build a utility-scale wind farm. This developer has been engaged in discussions with the county for over two years, after acquiring the project from another developer who had also worked on it for a few years. After a very detailed review by ANTARES and the county’s own staff, the county recommended that 17 conditions be placed on the approval of the developers special exception permit. After a public hearing, the county’s Planning and Zoning Committee made a unanimous recommendation to the county’s Board of Supervisors to approve the permit. A few weeks, and anther public hearing later, the Board of Supervisors also made a unanimous decision to approve the SEP with the recommended conditions.

In the project situation described, renewable energy projects under 100 MW are subject to a Permit by Rule process overseen by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Before the process can begin at the state level, the local government must certify compliance with local land use requirements.

After learning of the developer’s interest in the site, the county took action and passed a wind ordinance that regulates the permitting, construction, operations, and eventual decommissioning of utility-scale wind projects within its jurisdiction. In addition to outlining the regulatory process, the adoption of a wind ordinance is an important step in that it protects the interest of the county, its citizens, and its resources. Creating a wind ordinance from scratch can be an ordeal; to facilitate the process, the U.S. Department of Energy’s WindExchange program maintains a catalog of 411 wind energy ordinances from across the country. The WindExchange includes a link to the DOE’s Regional Resource Centers, which were created to provide regionally-focused information on topics such as the wind resource, geography, wildlife, electricity infrastructure, and costs.

The state DEQ acts as the lead agency and coordinates the inputs of the other state and federal agencies that will weigh in on the potential environmental, cultural and historic impacts to the project. At the end of the process, the DEQ issues a report that includes mitigation measures that must be taken to reduce or eliminate impacts of the project. Mitigating measures could involve things like limiting construction to certain seasons, avoiding certain areas of the site, or even curtailing operations during certain seasons and weather conditions.

This particular project is on track to be among the first utility-scale wind projects permitted, and among the first to be approved via the Permit by Rule process. The end of 2017 is earliest it could possibly reach commercial operation, assuming that the rest of the process goes smoothly; at that point, the project will have been under development for nearly 9 years.

ANTARES staff have an exceptional depth of experience in renewable energy projects ranging from owner’s engineering services, to assisting local jurisdictions review projects for ordinance compliance and with public outreach and education. Give us a call if we can assist you with your project.

About Heidi Alsbrooks

Heidi Lestyan Alsbrooks is a project manager and lead technical analyst for ANTARES. Her experience includes resource assessments, performance evaluation, visualization studies and economic analyses. She specializes in wind energy, renewable energy policy, and GIS-based resource modeling.

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