[Federal Register: September 11, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 177)]
[Page 52855-52858]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 52855]]



Western Area Power Administration


Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Intent To Prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact 
Statement To Evaluate Wind Energy Development in Iowa, Minnesota, 
Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota; Including the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service's Landscape-Level Easement Program in North 
Dakota, South Dakota, and Eastern Montana; and To Conduct Public 
Scoping Meetings

AGENCIES: Western Area Power Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, 
and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

ACTION: Notice of Intent to Prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact 
Statement, and to Conduct Public Scoping Meetings.


SUMMARY: In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 
1969 (NEPA), as amended; and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) 
regulations; the U.S. Department of Energy, Western Area Power 
Administration (Western), and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service), will, as joint lead agencies, prepare a 
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Programmatic EIS) to 
evaluate issues associated with wind energy development within 
Western's Upper Great Plains Customer Service Region (UGP Region), 
which encompasses all or parts of the States of Iowa, Minnesota, 
Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota; and upon the 
Service's landscape-level grassland and wetland easements in North 
Dakota, South Dakota, and eastern Montana. The U.S. Department of 
Agriculture, Rural Utility Services (RUS) plans to participate as a 
cooperating agency. Public scoping meetings will be held during the 
Programmatic EIS scoping period.

DATES: The public scoping meetings will be held September 30, October 1 
and 2, 2008. The public scoping period starts with the publication of 
this notice in the Federal Register and will continue until November 
10, 2008. Western and the Service will consider all electronic and 
written comments on the scope of the Programmatic EIS received on the 
project Web site (http://plainswindeis.anl.gov), or postmarked by 
November 10, 2008.

ADDRESSES: Western and the Service will hold public scoping meetings to 
obtain comments on the Programmatic EIS at 6 p.m., at the following 
    1. September 30, 2008, Holiday Inn City Centre, 100 West 8th St., 
Sioux Falls, SD.
    2. October 1, 2008, Radisson Hotel, 605 East Broadway Avenue, 
Bismarck, ND.
    3. October 2, 2008, Quality Inn Homestead Park, 2036 Overland 
Avenue, Billings, MT.
    The agencies will also announce the exact locations and times of 
the public meetings through the local media, the project Web site 
(http://plainswindeis.anl.gov), and an interested party mailing list. 
You may submit comments electronically, using the online comment form 
available on the project Web site (http://plainswindeis.anl.gov), or by 
letter to WAPA/FWS Wind Energy Programmatic EIS Scoping, Argonne 
National Laboratory, 9700 S. Cass Avenue-EVS/900, Argonne, IL 60439.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For information on Western's proposed 
Comprehensive Management Program for Wind Energy Project 
Interconnections, and general information about interconnections with 
Western's transmission system, contact Nicholas Stas, Regional 
Environmental Manager, Upper Great Plains Customer Service Region, 
Western Area Power Administration, P.O. Box 35800, Billings, MT 59107-
5800, telephone (406) 247-7404, facsimile (406) 247-7408, e-mail 
stas@wapa.gov. For information on the Programmatic EIS process, or to 
receive a copy of the Draft Programmatic EIS when it is issued, contact 
Mark Wieringa, NEPA Document Manager, Western Area Power 
Administration, P.O. Box 281213, Lakewood, CO 80228-8213, telephone 
(800) 336-7288, facsimile (720) 962-7263, e-mail wieringa@wapa.gov.
    For information on the Service's participation in the Programmatic 
EIS, contact Michael Spratt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 134 Union 
Boulevard, Lakewood, CO 80228-1807, telephone (303) 236-4366, facsimile 
(303) 236-4792, e-mail Michael_Spratt@fws.gov.
    For information on RUS's participation in the Programmatic EIS, 
contact Barbara R. Britton, Environmental Protection Specialist, 
Engineering and Environmental Staff, Water and Environmental Programs, 
Rural Development-Utilities Programs, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 
1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Mail Stop 1571, Washington, DC 20250; 
telephone (202) 720-1414; facsimile (202) 720-0820; e-mail 
    For general information on the DOE's NEPA review process, contact 
Carol M. Borgstrom, Director, Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance, GC-
20, U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., 
Washington, DC 20585-0119, telephone (202) 586-4600 or (800) 472-2756, 
facsimile (202) 586-7031.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Western's UGP Region proposes to develop and 
implement a comprehensive region-wide management program for wind-
energy project interconnections in response to an increasing number of 
wind-energy project interconnection requests. The UGP Region includes 
all or parts of the States of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North 
Dakota, and South Dakota. The requests are primarily from independent 
wind project developers who wish to interconnect their projects to the 
UGP Region's transmission system, in order to move their generation to 
market. Currently, Western addresses each request for interconnection 
separately, in the order that they are received.
    The objective of Western's proposed program would be to support the 
processing of these interconnection requests, including NEPA analyses, 
by having already addressed generic environmental interconnection 
concerns and issues in a Programmatic EIS. The Programmatic EIS would 
analyze, to the extent practicable, the impacts resulting from 
development of wind energy projects and the effectiveness of mitigation 
measures, standard construction practices, and best management 
practices in reducing potential impacts. Impacts and mitigation would 
be analyzed for each environmental resource, and all aspects of wind 
energy projects would be addressed, including turbine, transformer, 
collector line, access road, and substation installations, and 
operational and maintenance activities. The program would be structured 
to complement Western's Open Access Transmission Service Tariff 
(Tariff), which includes procedures for addressing wind-energy project 
interconnection requests.
    Many of the impacts resulting from wind energy infrastructure 
development, including siting wind turbines, access roads, underground 
collector lines, overhead lines, and substations, are well known. 
Similarly, effective mitigation measures and best management practices 
have been developed to reduce the environmental impacts of constructing 
and operating

[[Page 52856]]

wind-energy developments. The Programmatic EIS will collect and analyze 
this information as it applies to wind-energy development in the six 
states included in the UGP Region. Specifically, the EIS and program 
    1. Define areas with a high potential for wind-energy development 
near UGP Region's transmission system in anticipation of future wind-
generation interconnection requests.
    2. Define natural and human environment resources in areas with 
high wind-energy development potential, including Native American 
lands, to support analyses of the environmental impacts and development 
of wind-energy resources.
    3. Develop and present mitigation measures for reducing wind-energy 
development impacts on the natural and human environment for use by 
interconnection applicants in addressing the environmental impacts of 
their projects.
    4. Complete a programmatic Endangered Species Act (ESA) section 7 
consultation for listed and proposed threatened and endangered species 
within the study area boundaries established for the Programmatic EIS.
    5. Implement an adaptive management approach that requires 
mitigation implementation monitoring and reporting to ensure that the 
best mitigation measures are identified and employed to reduce 
environmental impacts. The monitoring reports would be used by Western 
and the Service to periodically update mitigation practices.
    6. Define thresholds for significant direct, indirect, and 
cumulative environmental impacts from wind-energy developments and 
associated transmission system enhancements to support the impact 
analysis in the Programmatic EIS.
    7. Define circumstances tied to laws, regulations, and policies 
that have potential to affect wind-energy resource development.
    8. Define possible transmission system enhancements to support wind 
development and the general level of impacts expected from these 
transmission enhancements.
    9. Provide a guide for interconnection applicants that includes 
information about natural resources within areas with a high potential 
for wind development, requirements for subsequent site-specific 
environmental reviews, transmission capacity needs and availability, 
and appropriate mitigation measures to minimize adverse environmental 
impacts related to wind projects and associated transmission system 
    The Service maintains a grassland and wetland easement program to 
support and enhance waterfowl populations in the Prairie Pothole 
Region. The Service's Region 6 has developed a plan that will allow 
partial release of an easement for wind generation purposes, only with 
defined conditions and on a specified area, in exchange for additional 
easement acreage being conveyed to the Service. As the Service moves 
forward with this plan, understanding the individual and cumulative 
impacts to wildlife habitat (primarily grasslands easements) and 
wildlife is critical. It is important to understand which habitats 
should be avoided. A streamlined approach for compliance (NEPA, 
National Historic Properties Act [NHPA], and ESA) for subsequent site-
specific wind development projects in the future would result from this 
Programmatic EIS.
    In accordance with the NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321), and the Council on 
Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508), 
1501.5(b), Western and the Service will be joint lead agencies in the 
preparation of the Programmatic EIS. Western and the Service will 
consult under section 7 of the ESA in support of the Programmatic EIS 
process. The Service intends to prepare a programmatic Biological 
Opinion as a result of this consultation.
    Western and the Service invite any Federal, State, or local agency 
or tribal government with jurisdiction by law or special expertise in 
wind energy development and/or electricity transmission operation to be 
a cooperating agency. RUS has already indicated that it plans to 
participate as a cooperating agency. Other agencies or state or tribal 
governments may become cooperating agencies at a later date.


    Scoping meetings will include introductory presentations on the 
proposed action by Western and the Service; an overview of wind-energy 
technologies, interconnections, and power transmission; the Service's 
landscape-level easement and avian protection programs; and the public 
participation process. Oral comments from the public will commence 
immediately after the presentations. Equal consideration will be given 
to electronic, oral, and written comments. Western and the Service 
encourage electronic submissions if possible. All meeting locations 
will be handicapped-accessible. Anyone needing special accommodations 
should contact Western or the Service to make arrangements.

Public Involvement and Comments

    Interested parties are invited to participate in the scoping 
process, both to refine preliminary alternatives and environmental 
issues to be analyzed in depth and to eliminate from detailed study 
those alternatives and environmental issues that are not feasible or 
pertinent. The scoping process is intended to involve all interested 
agencies (Federal, State, county, and local), public interest groups, 
businesses, and members of the public.
    The outcome of this Programmatic EIS may affect or apply to tribal 
resources. Therefore, Western and the Service will meet their Federal 
requirements to consult with affected tribes throughout the development 
of the Programmatic EIS to jointly evaluate and address the potential 
effects, if any, of the proposed action. These consultations would be 
conducted in accordance with Executive Order 13175 ``Consultation and 
Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments'' (65 FR 67249), the 
President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, ``Government-to-Government 
Relations with Native American Tribal Governments'' (59 FR 22961), 
agency-specific guidance on tribal interactions, and applicable natural 
and cultural resource laws and regulations (e.g., NEPA, ESA, NHPA, and 
Migratory Bird Treaty Act).
    Public scoping meetings will be held at the locations listed under 
ADDRESSES above. A presiding officer will establish only those 
procedures needed to ensure that everyone who wishes to speak has a 
chance to do so and that the agencies understand all issues and 
comments. Speakers will be asked to provide brief comments to allow 
adequate time to hear all comments. Depending upon the number of 
persons wishing to speak, the presiding officer may allow longer 
speaking times. Persons wishing to speak on behalf of an organization 
should identify that organization in their request to speak. Meetings 
will begin at the times specified and will continue until all those 
present who wish to participate have had an opportunity to do so. 
Should any speaker desire to provide further information for the record 
that cannot be presented within the designated time, such additional 
information may be submitted electronically or by letter by November 
10, 2008. A transcript of the comments offered during the scoping 
meetings will be prepared and made available.

[[Page 52857]]

    The public is encouraged to communicate information and comments on 
issues it believes Western and the Service should address in the 
Programmatic EIS. The agencies request information and comments on 
resources in the UGP Region that development of wind energy may impact. 
Comments may be in terms of broad areas or restricted to specific areas 
of concern. Individual respondents may request confidentiality. For 
written comments or comments received through the Web site, respondents 
may request to withhold names or street addresses, except for the city 
or town, from public view or from disclosure under the Freedom of 
Information Act. Such a request must be stated prominently at the 
beginning of the comment. We will honor requests to the extent allowed 
by law. All submissions from organizations or businesses, and from 
individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials of 
organizations or businesses, will be available for public inspection in 
their entirety.
    After gathering public comments on what issues should be addressed 
in the Programmatic EIS, Western and the Service will identify and 
provide rationale in the EIS on those issues addressed and those issues 
beyond the scope of the EIS. In addition to the major issues, Western 
and the Service will address a number of management questions and 
concerns in the Programmatic EIS. The public is encouraged to help 
identify these questions and concerns during the public scoping period. 
A scoping summary report will be available for public review 
approximately 45 days following closure of the scoping period. The 
report will be posted on the project Web site (http://
plainswindeis.anl.gov), or may be requested from the contacts noted in 

Background Information

    The Western's UGP Region sells more than 12 billion kilowatt-hours 
of firm power per year, generated from eight dams and powerplants of 
the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program-Eastern Division. This power is 
enough to serve more than 3 million households. The UGP Region delivers 
this hydropower through nearly 100 substations and across nearly 7,800 
miles of Federal transmission lines in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, 
Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, which are connected with 
other regional transmission systems and groups.
    Western offers transmission capacity in excess of the capacity it 
requires for the delivery of long-term, firm capacity and energy to 
current contractual electrical service customers of the Federal 
government in accordance with its Tariff. The Tariff was developed in 
response to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Orders implementing 
key provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Section 211 of the 
Federal Power Act requires that transmission service be provided upon 
request if transmission capacity is available. Under the Tariff, 
Western is required to provide firm and non-firm, point-to-point 
transmission service and network integration transmission service to 
applicants to the extent that Western has transmission capability 
    Western must respond to a wind developer's request for 
interconnection to the Federal transmission system. To each request, 
Western applies the terms and conditions of its Tariff, including its 
Large Generator Interconnection (LGI) and Small Generator 
Interconnection (SGI) procedures for providing nondiscriminatory 
transmission access. Interconnection requests to UGP Region's system 
require Federal action; therefore, Western has the need to respond to 
an applicant's request for interconnection to the Federal power system 
by approving or denying the request. In 2008, Western's UGP Region has 
received to date eight requests for interconnection for about 1,500 
megawatts (MW) of wind generation.
    If Western determines that existing transmission capacity is 
available for a proposed wind development, Western must ensure that 
existing transmission system reliability and service to existing 
customers is not degraded. The LGI and SGI procedures provide for 
transmission and system studies to ensure that capacity is available 
and system reliability and service to existing customers are not 
adversely affected. These studies also identify any system upgrades or 
additions necessary to accommodate a proposed wind development and 
ensure that they are included in the project's scope.
    Wind generation looks promising to Western's customers, other 
utilities, and wind energy developers in the UGP Region as a solution 
to increasing energy needs. To date, Western's process for addressing 
wind-energy interconnection requests has been on an individual basis 
and in the order of preference defined by interconnection procedures in 
its Tariff. With the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and other 
policy initiatives, Western supports development of wind-energy 
resources in the UGP Region. In response to increasing wind-energy 
development, UGP Region needs to establish a more proactive program to 
support wind-energy resources in the UGP Region.
    In the Service's Region 6, commercial wind energy development has 
grown from almost nothing in the early 1980s to over 11.5 gigawatts 
(GW) in 2006. Much of this growth has occurred in the past five years, 
and some predict the industry's installed generating capacity will 
continue to grow exponentially. Much of this potential development is 
occurring in areas having some of the largest intact tracts of native 
prairie and highest wetland densities, making it some of the most 
productive waterfowl habitat in North America. The scope and geographic 
extent of the Service's landscape level easement program in North 
Dakota, South Dakota, and eastern Montana make it difficult for wind 
companies to avoid impacting Service easements when developing wind-
energy resources in the UGP Region.
    Under the Service's grassland and wetlands easement program, the 
owners of land subject to grassland and wetland easements cannot engage 
in or allow any activity that would destroy vegetation. The intent of 
the program is to prevent conversion of grassland and wetlands and to 
protect these habitats at a landscape level while complementing 
existing agricultural practices and allow for other compatible uses 
where feasible. Cooperation with the agricultural community has 
resulted in the overwhelming success of this program, with over three 
million acres of grassland and wetlands protected to date. However, 
where wind-energy development is proposed for lands subject to the 
Service's easements, there must be a mechanism for reconciling these 
otherwise conflicting interests. It is essential that the Service 
consider the effects of the expansion of wind generation on the 
wildlife that uses these easement lands.

Draft EIS Schedule and Availability

    Western and the Service anticipate the Programmatic EIS process 
will take about 22 months and will include the public scoping meetings; 
consultation and involvement with appropriate Federal, State, and local 
agencies, and tribal governments; public review and hearing(s) on the 
published Draft EIS; a published Final EIS; and publication of Records 
of Decision (ROD).
    The public will be provided an opportunity to review the Draft EIS, 
and hearings on the published Draft EIS are expected to be conducted in 
the calendar year 2009. A notice of the location of these public 
hearings will be provided at a later date. A published final EIS, a 
waiting period, and

[[Page 52858]]

publications of ROD are anticipated in calendar year 2010.

    Dated: July 23, 2008.
Timothy J. Meeks,
Administrator, Western Area Power Administration.
    Dated: September 2, 2008.
Stephen D. Guertin,
Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. E8-21149 Filed 9-10-08; 8:45 am]