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Visual Impact Risk Assessment and Mitigation Mapping System (VIRAMMS)

VIRAMMS is a software system for determining the relative risk of visual impacts from siting wind energy facilities.

Land management agencies are faced with numerous applications for the siting of utility-scale wind facilities. Selecting optimal wind energy development areas and siting individual wind facilities involve making especially difficult decisions where lands have high scenic value or are otherwise visually sensitive. In these cases, planners must consider the different sensitivities of nearby visual resource areas and viewpoints, as well as the effect of distance on the visual contrasts associated with the facilities when observed from multiple viewing locations.

Visual Impact Risk Mapping

The Visual Impact Risk Assessment and Mitigation Mapping System (VIRAMMS) prototype is a geographic information system-based software tool for creating maps that show the relative visual impact risk associated with wind energy development. VIRAMMS aids land management agencies in wind energy development planning and project siting by creating visual impact risk maps that incorporate the differing sensitivity levels of multiple visual resource areas and viewpoints, while simultaneously accounting for the effects of distance on facility visibility. VIRAMMS's visual impact risk maps indicate areas with higher or lower risk(s) of visual impacts based on a distance- and sensitivity-weighted analysis of the overlapping viewsheds of potentially affected viewing locations.

A Simple VIRAMMS Distance-Weighted Visual Sensitivity Map for Three Key Observation Points

Other VIRAMMS Capabilities

VIRAMMS can also incorporate scenic integrity and visual absorption capability into the visual impact risk analysis. Other VIRAMMS capabilities include identifying potential measures to mitigate visual impacts based on placement of specific wind facility components and performing advanced viewshed analyses that calculate, for example, the height of a structure that could be concealed from a sensitive viewing location, based on vegetative/topographic screening.

Project Results and Status

Successful development of the VIRAMMS prototype system was completed in 2011, and is described in a project publication (PDF, 2.4MB). VIRAMMS was designed and developed by Argonne National Laboratory's Environmental Science Division with assistance from the University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies and the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM). VIRAMMS development funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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