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Wind Farm Siting & Design Appeal environmental features within the project

Getting an accurate picture area. Past relevant environmental


By Tom Neer documentation, such as environmental
assessments or impact statements, offers
Wind farm siting varies throughout the US. detailed insight into criteria important to the
In the Great Plains states, wind farms are lead agency, stakeholders, and the public.
generally accepted for multiple-use, Environmental or design regulations, such
allowing farmers and ranchers to utilize their as the BLM Visual Resource Management
land more effectively. The low population System or US Forest Service Scenery
densities and lack of substantial terrain relief Management System, will guide the
of the Great Plains states varies dramatically placement of turbines and describe sensitive
from the densely populated areas of the areas.
eastern states, and the topographic relief in
the western states. The siting of wind farms If possible, it’s highly recommended to
on ridgelines, or near population centers, obtain the scenic inventory notes that were
runs into a unique conundrum where the used to classify specific visual resource
wind farms are appreciated for their clean management areas. Although, unless a
energy—but, often times, as long as it’s “not resource management plan has recently been
in my backyard” (NIMBY). This has lead to completed, such documentation tends to be
wind projects being significantly delayed, tough to find. Generally, the most helpful
primarily due to visual aesthetics concerns information can be gleaned from either the
rather than ecological issues. local Chamber of Commerce or Tourist
Bureau. Not only are these good places to
Though many environmental constraints can find local recreation opportunities, but also a
be mitigated, the subjective nature of visual good place to get a good sense of the local
aesthetics is making this one of the key recreational and population vernacular. In
sticking points for proposed wind farms. rural locations, it’s not uncommon to have
With plans to reach 20% wind energy by unofficial recreation spots. These resources
2030, it’s inevitable that wind farms will are often overlooked, but should not be.
become more contentious due to visual Many inquiries can be done anonymously
aesthetics as a fallback for “NIMBY-ism.” without exposing project details, and while
Integrating visual aesthetic considerations obtaining valuable information.
during the design phase will not remove all
concerns, but will hopefully mitigate many Seen-area and viewshed analysis conducted
stakeholder concerns and provide defensible from sensitive locations (population centers,
documentation that visual aesthetics were recreation areas, etc.) are an invaluable tool
considered throughout the project design to assist in the siting of turbine strings. This
process. not only allows upfront knowledge of what
may or may not be visible, but also allows
As with any environmental constraint, the engineers to utilize natural terrain features to
acquisition of resources and reference mask portions of the development. By
materials are integral to the design process. combining multiple seen-area analysis, areas
The same is true for visual resources. of visual optimum and minimum can be
Acquiring site-specific and regional maps, generated.
relevant environmental documentation,
environmental or design regulations, and Utilizing the viewshed analysis and
recreational or tourist information are highly reference materials, regions around the
recommended. General site and regional project are identified for photographic
maps, such as USGS and BLM topographic inventory. At this stage, it’s important to
maps and US Forest Service maps, provide involve whoever will be producing the
information to the topography, cultural, and photographic simulations. Photographic
inventories should be zealously shot to
reduce the necessity of multiple field visits,
even though only a small percentage may be
used for photographic simulations or
determined as key observation points. The
process to capture photographs for
simulation purposes is fairly involved. It
requires capturing images at a specific focal
length, determining the appropriate the field-
of-view for panoramic shots, knowing the
exact position and time of day, and
accounting for issues such as parallax error
and additional field-of-view measurements
to assure accuracy of the final product. The
photographic inventory is used, in part or
whole, to determine key observation points
from which photographic simulations are
prepared for the alternatives—usually, in
conjunction with the lead permitting agency.

Many projects skip the importance of


including visual aesthetics during the design
process of a project, and they are left to the
last minute during the permitting phase. The
result could lead to getting an application
filing and having the lead agency request
additional information, which will inevitably
delay the permitting approval. Active
participation and interaction between the
developer, lead developer, and the public
goes a long way toward final approval of a
project. By integrating visual resource early
in a project, one can proactively take hold of
their wind power project from the beginning
and avoid unnecessary delays.

Digital Data Services, Inc., is a geospatial


service bureau combining technology,
proprietary processes, and procedures to
produce geospatial products and services
including visual resource assessments,
photographic inventories, viewshed analysis,
and more.

Digital Data Services, Inc.


www.usgsquads.com