The duration of monitoring both before, during and after construction is crucial to establishing complete, accurate and reliable information regarding the behavior and population dynamics of the species on site throughout the year. Good monitoring data are exceedingly important as they are the basis on which decisions will be made to minimize the level of impact from development to each species. However, there is often a tendency to sacrifice both duration and intensity of surveys due to cost and/or time constraints. This can jeopardize the integrity of data, and may result in impacts to species or populations. As countries strive to minimize environmental impacts to wildlife in concert with the rapidly growing wind industry both in the U.S. and abroad, the establishment of best practice procedures for monitoring is becoming the focus of research efforts worldwide. These findings are slowly becoming the basis of new and improved monitoring recommendations.
Examples of research and development for best practice recommendations for wind energy development are prevalent in Europe. For example, the Collaborative Offshore Wind Research into the Environment (COWRIE) is a steering committee comprised of experts from the offshore wind industry, which was established to conduct research in order to facilitate best practice guidance for wind energy development projects in the United Kingdom (UK). Since its establishment in 2001, COWRIE has developed several documents related to monitoring and surveying procedures and techniques.
While these are designed for offshore research, many of the principles apply on land. France has been conducting studies to establish information on best practice pre-construction monitoring. In 2006, a 4-year study was initiated to analyze the impact of a series of six proposed wind facilities in the Beauce Region of France. The monitoring program will thoroughly address habitat and behavioral impacts to birds and bats, and is intended to demonstrate how to carry out a scientifically valid monitoring program to help guide the further development of wind energy in that region. The initial Environmental Assessments (EAs) found little or no impacts to wildlife. However, if the findings of the extensive monitoring show additional impacts beyond the EA findings, this may help support the value of longer, more extensive monitoring (European Commission 2010). Denmark, one of the leading countries for offshore wind development, has also undertaken several studies revealing clear avoidance behavior from various bird species. In addition, Denmark has been working to develop and utilize improved monitoring techniques including advanced radar and infra-red video monitoring technologies (European Commission 2010).
In conjunction with increasing research, guidance for wind energy development aimed at minimizing impacts to wildlife is also quickly being developed worldwide. Within the past decade, some form of guidance has been developed in Canada, Australia, Belgium, Greece, Poland, Luxembourg, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Finland, France, Ireland, Scotland and Germany (European Commission 2010). In the United States, the Service released its 2003 Interim Guidelines to Avoid and Minimize Wildlife Impact from Wind Turbines, available at: https://www.fws.gov/habitatconservation/wind.pdf, and is working to release its final draft guidelines in 2011 for public review and comment, with final guidelines available sometime in 2011. Aside from the Service guidance, the following states have also created their own individual guidance on this issue including: New York, California, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas (very short, based on the NWCC Permitting of Wind Energy Facilities Handbook), Massachusetts (but limited on wildlife related recommendations), Michigan (very short and references USFWS interim guidelines), New Mexico (based on USFWS interim guidelines), Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin (short and used in conjunction with USFWS interim guidelines) and Wyoming. North Dakota, Nevada, Montana and Oklahoma use the USFWS interim guidelines and/or guidelines from other states; and several other states are currently in the process of creating their own guidelines (Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 2007).
The following are some examples of pre- and post- construction monitoring recommendations (including frequency and duration of study) and process matrices that have been developed to guide decisions-making regarding monitoring timelines through guidance both state-side and abroad. Many of the suggested timelines vary, but generally agree that a minimum of 1 year of preliminary baseline preconstruction monitoring is necessary to evaluate how many additional years of pre-construction monitoring may be necessary. In the UK, a 2 year baseline survey is generally recommended (European Commission 2010). The decision for duration of monitoring is usually made based on site-specific variables such as the particular species and determined risk level at each site. Monitoring during construction is also usually recommended. Post-construction monitoring recommendations span from several to multiple years depending on the established risk level, findings from previous surveys and monitoring, and other site specific variables. The Scottish guidance for monitoring at onshore wind energy facilities recommends that monitoring take place over at least 15 years after construction to capture both the long and short term effects of each project. UK guidance often recommends increasing duration and intensity of monitoring for as long as possible to improve data reliability and statistical power.
There is still much to be learned regarding best practice monitoring techniques, and much of the learning will likely be done through putting recommendations into practice and determining best results using an adaptive management approach. Guidelines and monitoring recommendations will undoubtedly evolve as new information becomes available. In the meantime, recommendations developed using the best available research and expert knowledge should continue to be the basis for current practices. The Service also advocates that a precautionary approach (Rio Declaration) always be taken where uncertainties of impacts exist.
Ultimately, the goal should be to develop reliable, consistent, and effective monitoring techniques and timelines, which will produce data that can be used both to effectively evaluate impacts at individual sites and determine cumulative impacts to species from multiple projects. Cumulative impacts are population-level impacts resulting from the combined effects of several projects, projects region-wide and overall wind development in North America. Cumulative impacts may be difficult to identify and verify unless data across projects can be shared to provide insight into the bigger picture effects within or across various regions. Identifying and implementing effective and consistent monitoring processes and procedures is key to this goal and to producing accurate, reliable and consistent data. Monitoring data across regions and projects combined with new technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and other Spatial Planning Tools will provide a better understanding of wind energy and other development impacts to birds, bats, other wildlife and their habitats. This will be invaluable to guiding future management decisions and reducing uncertainties in the landscape and site evaluation process.
Below is a quick reference matrix of recommendations regarding both frequency and duration of various types of pre- and post-construction monitoring for both onshore and offshore wind energy projects. These recommendations are included in guidelines developed by individual U.S. states and other countries. More detailed information regarding decision matrices and recommendations for individual states and countries including links to the documents from which they were referenced are listed immediately following the quick reference matrix.