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Local Elected Officials Hold Keys to America's Wind Energy Future

February 26, 2013

(Washington, DC) — The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) today released a guide to the key issues local elected officials will face when deciding where to site large wind energy facilities. The nation’s local governments will be dealing with the more than 100 new commercial scale wind farms that will be sited across America this year, and with thousands more to come in the next decade. With 60,000 megawatts of wind energy facilities already in place, this is the fastest growing source of electric power generation in American communities.

Siting Wind Energy Facilities: What do Local Elected Officials Need to Know? reviews what is known about the visual impacts, sound impacts, safety, recommended setback distances, impacts to roads, wildlife conservation, and decommissioning of wind energy facilities. County, city, and township rules and ordinances can have a big influence on these facilities, and especially upon where they locate and how they operate. But local elected officials often come to these decisions with no background information on wind facilities. Thus, they are often subject to assertions about impacts, or the science, or best practices that are based on anecdote or biased information. This makes the learning curve unnecessarily steep. ELI’s guide draws on the best government and academic literature, and from ordinances enacted around the nation, to provide a critical starting point for busy officials seeking to know what impacts are real, what concerns can be readily addressed, what practices are recognized as best, and what concerns require more information.

“Local officials need a credible place to start,” says ELI Senior Attorney James McElfish. “While each wind project will present its own issues, there is no need to start over in each community. A lot is already known. This guide takes a common-sense approach to each issue and documents each statement of fact with high-quality links to studies and findings,” McElfish maintains. The guide also highlights important sources of local ordinance-drafting information that are relied on by local officials, including recent recommendations by the National Association of Counties (NACO) and the American Planning Association (APA).

Siting Wind Energy Facilities: What do Local Elected Officials Need to Know? is a publication of ELI's Sustainable Use of Land Program, which advances ELI's organizational vision of “a healthy environment, prosperous economies, and vibrant communities founded on the rule of law.” It follows other ELI work in the renewable energy field, including State Enabling Legislation for Commercial-Scale Wind Power Siting and the Local Government Role (2011) and Siting Wind Facilities on State-Owned Lands and Waters (2011). The new guide was supported by a grant from the Wallace Global Fund.