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Environmental considerations at wind projects

When it comes to developing wind energy projects, it's not just about building turbines. Before construction can begin, consultants and energy companies like Alliant Energy conduct key environmental surveys and studies to understand and limit potential impact on the surrounding ecosystems. 

We present the results of these studies to state and federal environmental agencies such as the state Department of Natural Resources, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, the Iowa Utilities Board and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  

Our goal is to identify potential natural resources or regulatory issues to address ahead of time to protect environmental resources and keep the project on time and on budget. Let's take a closer look at the key components of these surveys and their significance. 

Sensitive habitat assessment 
This assessment identifies sensitive habitats within the project area, including national, state and regional parks, recreation areas and designated natural communities, native prairies and wetlands. By pinpointing these areas, developers can implement measures to avoid or minimize any negative impacts on wildlife and ecosystems.  

For example, the assessment may uncover active bald eagle nesting sites in the proposed wind project development area. As a result, the energy company or project developer would voluntarily set turbines back, away from nesting sites in accordance with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines.  

Wetland and water resources assessment 
Understanding the wetlands, streams and floodplains within the project area is essential for sustainable development. By compiling existing data from sources like the National Wetland Inventory and FEMA floodplain mapping, developers assess potential impacts and implement strategies to mitigate them.  

Cultural resource review 
Preserving cultural heritage is also a crucial aspect of environmental surveys. This involves identifying historic structures, architectural resources and archaeological sites within the survey area. Like the wetland assessment, this catalog of cultural resource information helps avoid or minimize impact on the identified resources.  

For example, the initial cultural resource survey may identify the potential for unrecorded archaeological resources in an area. This could lead to a more thorough archaeological survey of areas proposed where ground disturbance, such as digging holes for turbine foundations and boring tunnels underground, may occur within the project site.  

Bird and bat conservation strategy 
Wind turbines, like buildings and vehicles, can pose a risk to birds and bats, so it’s essential to develop conservation strategies. This includes assessing potential impacts on threatened and endangered species and complying with relevant regulations such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.  

Our Avian Protection Plan identifies areas where birds fly to reduce risks posed by electrical infrastructure and renewable energy projects. The plan also addresses the importance of protecting birds at renewable sites. We track and report any avian injuries or mortalities and educate nearby landowners and operators about the importance of timely and proper disposal of animal remains.  

Environmental surveys play a vital role in ensuring the sustainable development of wind energy projects. Reducing potential impacts on sensitive habitats, water resources, cultural heritage and wildlife means we can harness renewable energy without compromising the natural world. Learn more about what goes into the planning process for wind projects here

Grant Barton is a Communications Partner with a passion for sustainability and eco-friendly city planning. He has a diverse background in engineering, politics and international communications and hopes to apply this experience when writing and breaking down complex topics related to Alliant Energy's Clean Energy Future plans.

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