On July 7, 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced its Record of Decision (ROD) for the Upper Great Plains Wind Energy Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). This is the final step in a process that US FWS, along with Western Area Power Administration (Western), embarked upon in 2010 to streamline the environmental review process for wind energy projects in the Upper Great Plains (UPG). The process applies to wind energy projects in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota that would interconnect to Western’s transmission facilities or require the US FWS to consider an easement exchange to accommodate placement of project facilities.
Western, which is responsible for marketing and delivering wholesale power in the western United States and is the joint lead agency on the PEIS, announced its ROD adopting Alternative 1 on August 26, 2015. Eleven months later, US FWS made its final decision and also adopted Alternative 1 of the PEIS which supports US FWS participation in easement exchanges for wind development and provides for expedited environmental reviews (including review pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA)) if developers follow specified best management practices, minimization and mitigation measures. Now that US FWS has issued its Record of Decision, it may implement the PEIS when permitting wind energy projects involving easement swaps within Western’s Upper Great Plains region.