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By: Roselle Drahushak-Crow, NEPA Document Manager, Golden Field Office 

Using a site-wide EA to consider the environmental effects of site development is “business as usual” for DOE’s Golden Field Office and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). In May 2002, the Office issued its Final Site-Wide Environmental Assessment of National Renewable Energy Laboratoryís National Wind Technology Center (DOE/EA-1378) for the 305-acre National Wind Technology Center, replacing a November 1996 site-wide EA of similar title (DOE/EA-1127). Located between Golden and Boulder, Colorado, the wind research center is one of the two NREL campuses that support energy efficiency and renewable energy research. 

“The NEPA process requires us to plan several years out, to envision the impacts of our actions, and to plan for mitigating those impacts,” said John Kersten, Manager of the Golden Field Office, which administers the management and operating contract for NREL. “The result is that projects are better planned and more likely to be completed on schedule.” 

Management Involvement Improves Effectiveness

The NEPA team ensured that the new EA would be useful by encouraging ownership among managers and other decisionmakers. The Golden Field Office initiated the process by working with NREL to organize a multidisciplinary team of both organizations’ managers, site operations personnel, and environment, safety, and health staff. 

The NEPA process has proven to be a valuable planning tool for our office and for NREL. – John Kersten, Manager, Golden Field Office

This team conducted internal scoping to identify the components of the proposed action in the EA, which is to operate the wind research center for alternative energy research with new and improved capability. The proposed action includes permanent physical improvements such as buildings and equipment, utilities, and other infrastructure. It also includes activities that do not require permanent facilities or infrastructure, such as research programs, facility operations, management practices, and maintenance activities. By examining this broad set of proposals and activities, the team improved the quality of the EA and ensured its relevance. Team members also provided feedback into other processes, such as the site development plan and program planning, that sparked additional analysis.

 “Through the EA, we proactively identified the need to reroute a natural gas pipeline installation to avoid an environmentally sensitive area, thereby saving time and costs on the project,” said Randy McConnell, Director of Environment, Safety, and Security for NREL. This pipeline would tap into an existing supply line and extend approximately two-thirds of a mile across privately owned property adjoining the site. The environmentally sensitive area is a drainage basin that potentially could serve as habitat for the Prebles Meadow Jumping Mouse, a threatened species. 

Integrating NEPA and Site Planning

Although site-wide EAs typically have a five-year shelf life, the multidisciplinary team elected to address both short-term (five years) and long-term (up to 20 years) site improvements. This approach not only extends the document’s useful life, but also broadens the scope of the analysis to take into account the unpredictable nature of frequently changing priorities in Federal program funding. 

For a “reality check,” the team worked with the NREL budget planning office to review the activity and improvement descriptions. Short-term projects that were in a relatively more advanced planning stage, including facility modifications and construction, infrastructure improvements, site activities, and routine maintenance, were analyzed in greater detail. Fewer details were available for the long-term projects (ranging from facility construction to research, development, and testing), but including these projects helped planners and managers to think about options for future improvement scenarios. 

These various scenarios were incorporated into a bounding analysis approach for analyzing the potential environmental impact. The site was partitioned or “zoned” according to possible future uses such as new facilities, test pad locations for wind turbines and other technologies, and “no-build” or conservation management areas. The zones provided a framework for quantifying future activities and potential impacts, such as the amount of ground to be disturbed and the square footage of improvements. It also helped the program to plan for long-term priorities such as the capability to test one megawatt and larger wind turbines. Such an analysis will provide a guide for planning future projects and activities. 

The benefits of enlisting an integrated site planning approach in the site-wide EA process will become more apparent during the document’s five-year life expectancy and beyond. When site managers grapple with decisionmaking, the site-wide EA will be a resource to help determine which areas of the site are best suited for a proposed activity, what environmental sensitivities need to be considered, how a proposal compares with original plans, and what has changed on the site. Ultimately, the planners and managers who use this document to assess the environmental implications of site development initiatives will measure the success of this process. For further information, please contact me at roselle_drahushak_crow@nrel.gov or 303-275-4775.