AWEA Webinar Q&A’s
We thank you for attending "Wind Energy and Wildlife: Comprehensive Species Mitigation to Streamline Permitting"
As promised below are answers to the questions we received during the webinar.
This all seems to be focused on permittee-responsible mitigation. Will you discuss the advantages of buying credits from banks and ILF programs?
Because species banks selling bat credits currently only are operating in two states, and no range-wide in-lieu fund (ILF) is available to address direct take of listed bats for wind projects, we focused on permittee responsible mitigation. However, there are clear advantages to using both banks and ILF programs. In both cases, handling mitigation becomes largely transactional. In the case of a bank, the appropriate credit amount may be directly purchased from a bank operator, whereas in the case of an ILF program, a one-time payment is made to the ILF operator. Both options may be included as part of the mitigation solution identified in a Habitat Conservation Plan. Several issues are important to consider for banks. It is critical to verify that the bank has a service area covering the project area and that sufficient credits are or will be available to cover the mitigation need. When developing an HCP with intent to use a species bank to satisfy mitigation requirements, coordinating with the mitigation provider early can address both issues.
One additional point to note regarding PRMs- When a wind company works with someone like RES to develop an actual conservation project through mitigation, that wind company then can take full advantage of being able to promote their specific conservation metrics and all the KPIs that go along with it. For some companies, this is important for their ESG ratings and corporate sustainability measures. When buying credits from an ILF program, the transaction and project can typically be separated by many years, and the buyer is typically disconnected from the details of the actual project making promotion of their conservation efforts much more difficult.
When using data driven selection of highest quality habitat are you developing field verified custom datasets?
While we consider our specific methods of identifying habitat to be a proprietary business product, we do develop our own custom field-validated datasets that are field validated. However, we do also validate the quantity of all our potential mitigation sites using qualified bat biologists.
How involved is development of the mitigation plan? Is it a multi-month, lengthy process or something that can be done in a couple of weeks?
Developing a Mitigation Plan is a technical and involved process. Remember that the Mitigation Plan is a legally binding agreement on how the mitigation sites will be maintained, monitored, protected, and funded in perpetuity. Because of this, it is critical that all details and contingencies are adequately accounted for and properly reviewed. This typically involves analysis and review by both biologists and legal counsel.
The first step in developing the Mitigation Plan is procurement of a suitable mitigation site, which requires identification of potential sites, negotiation with landowners, site assessments and validation, and ultimately U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval (USFWS). How quickly a mitigation site may be procured is dependent in large part upon the restrictions set on the search (including USFWS preferences) and landowner interest in selling property. In our experience, this process may take a little as one month to over a year. To make sure that we can service clients’ needs, RES typically works ahead of demand to have an inventory of suitable mitigation properties, so the timing to procure a site typically does not impact our client project timeline.
Preparation of the site Mitigation Plan itself, the document that describes the site and details the management and monitoring actions, can take between one week and six months to complete. Mitigation plans with greater restoration components typically take longer to prepare than those that focus on preservation. An often overlooked but critical portion of the preparation process is development of the terms of the conservation easement and provision of financial assurances, which requires legal review. As a dedicated mitigation provider, RES has a dedicated legal team that develops our conservation easements concurrently with development of other portions of our mitigation plan thereby providing time and cost savings.
Has RES worked on mitigation projects for species other than bats?
RES has delivered species mitigation solutions across the country and for a variety of populations, including the Golden-cheeked Warbler, Cheat Mountain Salamander, and Carolina Heelsplitter.
Do you foresee any additional bat species requiring mitigation efforts in the near future?
As a result of significant White-nose Syndrome related population decreases the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has initiated a status review for the tri-colored bat, and may initiate a status review for the little brown bat within the next few years. If the status review finds that listing is warranted, these species will be afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act and therefore take related to wind farm operation will require an Incidental Take Permit. RES monitors the listing and status of species of concern closely, and has developed mitigation strategies that would provide for mitigation need for both little brown bats and tri-colored bats should listing occur or the species be pre-emptively included in a Habitat Conservation Plan.
What advice would you have for a land trust interested in partnering with a mitigation provider?
If you are interested in partnering with a mitigation provider, reach out! Partnership opportunities can be identified around properties in the acquisition process as well when identifying long-term stewards. As a requirement of the mitigation project, RES cannot hold the conservation easements so we’re typically always looking for land trusts interested in holding the easements and facilitating the role of long-term steward.
Is RES planning conservation banks anywhere outside of Pennsylvania?
Yes, RES is currently developing a mitigation bank in Indiana, and has plans in other states in the Midwest as well.
Does RES have any land available currently that’s not allocated to projects?
Yes, the process of identifying, procuring, and validating land for bat presence has resulted in RES having additional inventory of land available for both summer and swarming credits for IBATS and NLEBs in Indiana, along with summer credits in Illinois. If there’s a need for land that’s already been validated for presence of both species to be utilized quickly for a mitigation strategy, RES can facilitate the need very quickly in both of these states.