FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Dec. 8, 2006
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Altamont Pass Bird Kill Study Underway,
Will Determine Methods to Reduce Raptor Mortality at Wind Farm
2005-2006 MONITORING CONFIRMS CEC MORTALITY ESTIMATES
Alameda County Commitment to Adequate Funding in Question
OAKLAND Calif. ““ A blue-ribbon Scientific Review Committee (SRC) and an Avian Monitoring Team appointed by Alameda County to study bird fatalities at Altamont Pass has begun a groundbreaking monitoring program aimed at finding solutions for reducing the high number of birds of prey killed at some wind turbines.
This monitoring effort is intended to detect trends in bird mortality at Altamont Pass and evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation measures implemented to reduce avian mortality. The goal is to reduce deaths of target raptor species by 45 percent.
“We support expanding wind power as an essential part of achieving the 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming,” said Jeff Miller, of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The unacceptable numbers of bird deaths at Altamont are caused by obsolete, first generation turbines that were poorly placed to begin with. If adequately funded, the monitoring program has the potential to identify measures to resolve and prevent the deaths of hundreds of eagles, hawks, owls, kestrels and other birds of prey each year.”
Monitoring of bird mortality at Altamont Pass wind turbines was conducted by consultants for the wind industry from 2005 to 2006. The results appear to confirm high mortality estimates from an earlier study funded by the California Energy Commission (CEC) published in 2004. Over the past year, consultants WEST, Inc. recorded a rate of bird kills for all raptors combined (expressed in bird deaths per megawatt of turbine power per year) that falls within the same range of observed mortality reported in CEC’s five-year study from 1998 to 2003. The rate of Red-tailed Hawk deaths from 2005 to 2006 appears to be twice the mortality rate observed in the CEC study. Previously, some wind power companies and the California Wind Energy Association had tried to attack the accuracy and conclusions of the CEC study.
Results from the monitoring also corroborate the CEC’s evaluation and modeling of collision risk for turbines and classification of high-risk turbines for bird mortality. The most lethal 5 to 8 percent of turbines appear to kill birds of prey at twice the rate as do the remaining turbines. Preliminary data from observed bird kills indicates that the seasonal shutdown of wind turbines over the past winter appears to have reduced mortality of some raptor species. These conclusions are drawn from preliminary raw data that has not been corrected for consistency of fatality searches, or adjusted for scavenger removal of carcasses and searcher detection efficiency. The preliminary draft report, which is still subject to revision, is available at www.altamontsrc.org/alt_doc/apwra_prel_mon_rpt_11_06.pdf.
The results of the 2005-2006 monitoring were released and discussed at a Dec. 5, public workshop in Emeryville, Calif. At the workshop, the SRC and monitoring team discussed methods and protocols for monitoring avian impacts at the wind turbines. The next step will be for the committee to recommend to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors a monitoring study plan for the next three years. The SRC’s recommendation is expected by Dec. 15, and the Board of Supervisors will vote on the monitoring study plan at its Jan. 11, 2007 meeting.
The monitoring study is crucial for designing additional mortality reduction measures for existing turbines, which Alameda County has authorized to continue operating for up to 13 more years, and for providing data for the wind power Environmental Impact Report that Alameda County has mandated be prepared in 2008. The study will also establish the baseline of existing mortality by which replacement of old wind turbines with new turbines (“re-powering” projects) at Altamont will be judged. Although the wind power companies at Altamont are paying for the monitoring program, in October the Alameda County Board of Supervisors placed an arbitrary $2 million cap on the monitoring effort over the next three years. Previously, the monitoring team has said that the three-year monitoring plan will cost approximately $3 million if it is to adequately determine the number of bird deaths and evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation measures in reducing bird kills.
The SRC and monitoring team were established by Alameda County as a condition of its September 2005 renewal of the operating permits for the more than 4,000 small, obsolete wind turbines at Altamont Pass. Wind turbines at Altamont Pass kill an estimated 880 to 1,300 eagles, hawks, falcons and owls each year. Among the permit conditions was an “intensive, scientifically-rigorous and independent” monitoring program of the avian deaths, and a seasonal shutdown of all turbines in the winter, when more raptors are killed and less wind power is produced.
“We now have a historic opportunity to significantly advance the science of making wind power safer for birds and to begin to lower the number of golden eagles and other magnificent raptors killed at Altamont Pass,” said Miller. “An incredibly talented pool of biological experts has proposed a thorough study plan to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies for reducing bird kills at the wind turbines. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors must step up and mandate adequate funding for this monitoring program.”
The Avian Monitoring Team is led by the University of California’s Predatory Bird Research Group, and includes the consulting firms BioResource Consultants, Jones & Stokes, and WEST, Inc. The SRC consists of five scientists nominated by all stakeholders that will help develop the Altamont monitoring program, evaluate the effectiveness of proposed mitigation measures, and peer review the work of the monitoring team.
More information regarding Altamont Pass bird kills is available at: www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/bdes/altamont/altamont.html