Environmental Science Division (EVS) a Division of Argonne National Laboratory

Best practices guide for mitigating visual impacts of utility-scale wind, solar, and geothermal energy facilities

November 1, 2013

Working with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), EVS has developed a comprehensive guide to best management practices (BMPs) for mitigating the visual impacts associated with utility-scale wind, solar, and geothermal energy facilities. The guide, titled Best Management Practices for Reducing Visual Impacts of Renewable Energy Facilities on BLM-Administered Lands (PDF, 14 MB), presents 120 BMPs for avoiding or reducing potential visual impacts associated with the siting, design, construction, operation, and decommissioning of utility-scale renewable energy generation facilities — wind, solar, and geothermal.

Wind turbines against a stormy sky near Cheyenne, Wyoming
Wind turbines against a stormy sky near Cheyenne, Wyoming [Source: Robert Sullivan, Argonne National Laboratory]

Although wind, solar, and geothermal energy facilities present opportunities to “harvest” renewable energy sources that decrease carbon emissions, reduce air pollution, and reduce our country’s reliance on fossil fuels, these facilities can also cause large visual impacts in the open landscapes of the western United States. Because the facilities are very large and have unique visual characteristics, they present special challenges for visual impact mitigation. BLM, which is receiving increasing numbers of proposals to develop utility-scale renewable energy facilities on the lands it administers, is increasingly concerned with avoiding and/or reducing the visual impacts associated with these facilities.

The Renewable Energy Visual BMP guide provides individual BLM district and field offices, industry, and other stakeholders with proven, effective, and vetted BMPs to address a wide range of potential visual impacts from renewable energy facilities throughout the project lifecycle. The BMPs presented are designed to provide for safe and efficient operations while minimizing undesirable impacts to visual resources. The proactive incorporation of visual BMPs into project planning and development typically results in a more efficient review process, greater stakeholder acceptance of proposed projects, and — in many cases — reduced remediation costs. Many visual BMPs also benefit other valued resources, such as wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and water quality. Their effective use helps the BLM fulfill its mandate for preservation of scenic resources for the enjoyment of future generations.

Lead authors for the Renewable Energy Visual BMP guide are Robert Sullivan and Ron Kolpa of EVS. John McCarty, BLM Chief Landscape Architect is a co-author. The guide received technical reviews from more than 15 subject matter experts from BLM, Argonne, other federal agencies, the renewable energy industries, academia, and the visual resource professional community.

Glare and reflections from airborne dust particles at a solar power tower facility.
Glare and reflections from airborne dust particles at a solar power tower facility. [Source: Robert Sullivan, Argonne National Laboratory]
CONTACT US
portrait of Robert Sullivan