Pacific Southwest Region
California, Nevada and Klamath Basin
Wind turbines in the desert photo: Scott Flaherty

Renewable Energy Development in California, Nevada & Klamath Basin

Working with others to support our nation's renewable energy goals while protecting our nation's wildlife and their habitats

Lands in California and Nevada are among the world's richest sources of renewable energy in the form of wind, solar and geothermal energy. The Pacific Southwest Region provides environmental review of renewable energy projects in support of the Department of the Interior's initiatives to advance environmentally appropriate renewable energy in California and Nevada. We work with others to support our nation's renewable energy goals while protecting our nation's wildlife and the habitats they need. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to work with other federal and state agencies to streamline environmental review processes for renewable energy projects, including the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) that will streamline permitting processes on both federal and non-federal lands. The Pacific Southwest Region is also a member of the interagency Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) in California.

How We're involved

The FWS provides environmental review for energy projects proposed for public and private lands. We review projects that have the potential to affect wildlife protected by federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) and others. We also provide technical assistance to federal agencies, Native American tribes and project developers. The information below provides basic information about how the FWS consults on energy projects.

Projects on Public Lands

For projects proposed on federal lands, federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), are required by the ESA to ensure that any action they authorize, implement, or fund, including energy developments, will not jeopardize the continued existence of any federally endangered or threatened species or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat. Before initiating a project the federal action agency, or its non-federal permit applicant, typically asks us to provide a list of threatened, endangered, proposed, and candidate species and designated critical habitats that may be present in the project area. If we answer that no species or critical habitats are present, then the federal action agency has no further ESA obligation under section7(a)(2) and informal consultation is concluded. If the proposed project will adversely affect a listed species or its critical habitat, formal consultation is required.

How Consultation Works

If the federal action agency determines that a project may adversely affect a listed species or designated critical habitat, formal consultation is required. There is a designated period of time in which to consult (90 days), and beyond that, another set period of time for us to prepare a biological opinion (45 days). The determination of whether or not the proposed action would be likely to jeopardize the species or adversely modify its critical habitat is contained in the biological opinion. If a jeopardy or adverse modification determination is made, the biological opinion must identify any reasonable and prudent alternatives that could allow the project to move forward.

In addition to review for listed species and habitats, we also review proposed projects for potential impacts to bald and golden eagles and migratory birds which are protected under the BGEPA and MBTA. We work with energy developers to formulate plans designed to avoid and minimize a project's impacts to birds and bats.

Projects on Private Lands

We review projects proposed for private lands to ensure developers are in compliance with federal laws such as the ESA, MBTA, BGEPA and others.

The "take" of threatened and endangered species is prohibited by section 9 of the ESA. Take is defined as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct.” Projects that are likely to result in take of federally listed species may require an incidental take permit (ITP) under Section 10(a)1(B) of the ESA. Incidental take permits exempt non-federal permit holders,such as States and private landowners, from the probitions of section 9, not to authorize the activities that result in take. Before a permit can be issued, the applicant (developer) must submit a habitat conservation plan (HCP). HCPs can apply to both listed and nonlisted species, including those that are candidates or have been proposed for listing.

Incidental Take Permits and Habitat Conservation Plans

Who needs an incidental take permit? Anyone whose lawful activities will result in the incidental “take” of a listed wildlife species needs a permit. The FWS can help determine whether a proposed project or action is likely to result in “take” and whether an HCP is recommended. We can also provide technical assistance to help design a project to avoid and or minimize take. The benefit to landowners in creating and HCP and obtaining an ITP is that it allows them to proceed with their proposed activities in compliance with the ESA
In order to apply for an ITP pursuant to Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA, a HCP must be prepared.  The purpose of a HCP is to provide the supporting information necessary for permit issuance.  A HCP must include the following basic information:
-- Activities that would result in take of federally listed species for which permit coverage is requested;
-- Measures that will be implemented to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the effects of the impacts; funding that will be made available to ensure such measures are implemented; and procedures to deal with unforeseen circumstances;
-- Alternative actions considered to the proposed taking of the species;

Reporting and monitoring of the action to ensure compliance with the terms of the permit; and
-- Additional measures the FWS may require as necessary or appropriate for purposes of the plan. Our HCP Template can help you get started. 

A complete incidental take permit application package includes:
-- A completed application form 3-200-56
-- A HCP
-- Application fee of $100
Implementing Agreement (if applicable)

Depending on the impacts to species and adequacy of the applicant’s HCP, the permitting process for individual projects can be as little as two years. Low impact HCPs can be completed within a year.

protecting eagles, bats and other wildlife

bald eagle, desert tortoise, kit fox, california condor, bat
photos: USFWS

Renewable energy development, particularly wind-generating projects, are associated with topography that supports bald and golden eagle nesting habitat and California condor nesting habitat and provides wind currents that are ideal for bird flight, including raptor, eagle and California condor foraging and bird migration. In these areas the potential for avian mortality can be high. Responsible project siting are critical to minimizing and avoiding a project's impacts to eagles, condors and other birds.

Guidelines for Employees and Project Developers

The guidance is incorporated into two documents:

Voluntary, Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines provide a process on how to avoid and minimize impacts to federally protected migratory birds and bats and other impacted wildlife. The guidance begins with site selection, and continues through construction, operation and maintenance of land-based, wind energy facilities.

In April 2013, the FWS released Version 2, Module 1 of the Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance. The document provides specific in-depth guidance for conserving Bald and Golden eagles in the course of siting, constructing, and operating wind energy facilities. In California, we have already been working closely with developers to limit the impacts of projects on eagles, birds and other wildlife.  The guidelines are not new regulations. They provide the FWS and project developers in California and the nation with a common framework and process for responsible development of wind projects with the goal of reducing negative impacts to wildlife.

The Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines address effects to fish and wildlife trust resources and their habitats relatively generally, whereas the Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance provides recommendations based specifically on the biology of and legal protections for Bald and Golden eagles. More information about the draft guidelines is available below:

Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance, Version 2, Module 1 (Land Based Wind Energy) .pdf
Final Land Based Wind Energy Guidelines .pdf
Wind Energy Guidance Fact Sheet .pdf

Adherence to the Guidelines and the Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance is voluntary and does not relieve any individual, company, or agency of the responsibility to comply with laws and regulations.

FWS regulations establish permits for take of bald and golden eagles under the BGEPA. More information about Eagle Permits is available at 50 CFR Section 22.26. Download pdf file. Permits may be issued to wind energy companies and other entities for recurring take over a specified period up to 30 years. Incidental take permits only after the entity demonstrates that it is employing the best, scientifically supportable techniques to reduce eagle disturbance and mortalities to a level where remaining take is unavoidable. For more information about eagle conservation efforts and eagle permitting is available here.

Bird and Bat Conservation Strategies

Bird and Bat Conservation Strategies (BBCS), formerly known as Avian Bat Protection Plans, or ABPP, help companies and other project proponents to conserve migratory birds and bats by using the most environmentally friendly ways possible to develop projects and produce energy. A BBCS is a project-specific document developed by the applicant that describes a program to reduce risks to bats and birds during the construction and operation of a project. Developers are encouraged to coordinate avian and bat protections with the FWS early in the project planning phase. Developing and implementing BBCSs are voluntary, and are not a substitute for complying with the ESA or other laws.

INformation for developers

wind turbines
photo: Scott Flaherty/USFWS

Where to Start
We recommend project developers coordinate with us early in their project planning process. Project developers should contact the nearest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office with proposed project descriptions, proposed locations and other relevant information. Fish and Wildlife Office locations in California and Nevada is available here.

How Much Time Will the Service's Review Take to Complete?
Depending on a proposed project's location, scope and impact to species, our review and permitting process will take between 135 days for projects on public lands and 2 years for permitting individual projects on private lands under section 10 of the ESA.

The timeframe for projects on private lands relies on an idealized scenario for permitting of Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP).  We make several positive assumptions about prioritization of projects and the quality of documents received by the FWS:

1. We Receive Adequate Documentation.
Our timeline assumes that all documents we receive from the applicant are complete and meet all applicable requirements, including an appropriate and adequate conservation strategy. In most instances, documents will be adequate if the applicant works with the Service early on to assure that all requirements are met when the documents are submitted. The requirements are found in the section 10 implementing regulations and the HCP Handbook

2. HCP Conservation Strategy is Adequate
An adequate conservation strategy is critical to the successful permitting under section 10 of the ESA.  Therefore, a substantial part of the up-front work of the applicant and the Service is to ensure that an adequate conservation strategy is developed prior to submittal of the documents. The Service has expertise in developing these strategies as well as an awareness of landscape-scale issues in particular project areas.   

3. HCP Complies With Other Applicable Laws
Compliance with State laws (i.e., California Environmental Quality Act and California Endangered Species Act) as well as the Federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and National Historic Preservation Act is necessary for projects to be permitted.  Applicants should work with applicable State and Federal agencies to ensure that documents submitted address these laws in addition to the ESA.  If submitted documents do not consider these laws, the permitting process is likely to be substantially delayed. 

Timeline Diagram.
We have created a visual aid to illustrate our idealized timeline for NEPA and ESA section 10 permitting. The diagram shows Service and applicant responsibilities during the permitting process and how each step can effect processing. Download the timeline. (800kb.pdf)

More Guidance for Working With Us
"Best Management Practices & Guidance Manual: Desert Renewable Energy Projects" was prepared by the California Energy Commission, California Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The manual provides recommendations to developers and federal, State, local and tribal governments for timely processing of desert renewable energy project permits.
Download the Manual (2mb .pdf)
Final Land-Based Wind Energy Guidance (1.4mb .pdf)

Survey Protocols and Guidelines for Species.

Desert tortoise / Species profile
Flat tailed horned lizard / Species profile
Arroyo toad / Species profile
Quino checkerspot butterfly / Species profile
San Joaquin Kit fox / Species profile
California condor / Species profile

Species lists are available from local Fish and Wildlife Offices in California and Nevada.