Alameda County supervisors were unimpressed with a proposed monitoring system that would study the impacts of the Altamont Pass windmills on scores of birds, including golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, burrowing owls and other protected species.
Saying costs for the program appeared to be increasing and that it probably would not sufficiently monitor bird deaths, supervisors directed county staff to find a more thorough system – and stay under the board’s imposed $2 million cost cap.
In July, supervisors rejected a $3 million plan to monitor bird deaths in the Altamont. At that July meeting, supervisors agreed to cap the program at $2 million, saying monitoring costs had spiraled out of control.
Brian Walton, principal investigator and contract administrator for the monitoring system, agreed the $2 million plan discussed at Thursday’s meetings would not be able to accurately gauge the avian mortality rate at the windmills. That plan called for the monitoring of fewer than 1,000 turbines every 30 days.
Alameda County staff told supervisors such a monitoring program could leave the county open to more lawsuits from environmental groups seeking to cut the number of bird deaths in the Altamont Pass area.
A five-member scientific review committee working on the project said a more adequate sample would be 2,500 turbines. However, such a plan cost more than the $2 million cap allows.
The chosen monitoring program will be a collaborative operation of UC Santa Cruz, WEST Inc. and Jones & Stokes, the top three bidders for the project.
The group will monitor bird deaths around the 5,400 windmills east of Livermore, which stretch from Byron south to Corral Hollow Road, southwest of Tracy.
The news that the recommended program would cost more than $2 million did not sit well with Scott Haggerty, president of the county board of supervisors.
“We put these three teams together and have watched costs soar,” said Haggerty, who represents Livermore, Pleasanton and parts of Sunol and Fremont on the county board. “I think a funding plan needs to come forward other than, ‘Here it is, write a check.'”
County Supervisor Gail Steele recommended that the county investigate state grants to help pay for such projects.
According to a study released in 2004 by the California Energy Commission, an estimated 1,700 to 4,700 birds die each year by flying into whirling turbine blades or being electrocuted by transmission lines that thread through the 50,000-acre Altamont Wind Resource Area.
The fatal crashes involve as many as 116 golden eagles, 300 red-tailed hawks, 333 American kestrels and 380 burrowing owls, the study found.
Wildlife advocates say each of these raptor deaths violates at least one of seven state and federal laws designed to protect birds of prey.
The eagles alone are protected under two federal statutes, the violation of each can result in a fine of as much as $5,000 and a six-month jail term.
California has four main “wind resource areas” – Altamont Pass; Tehachapi Pass, south of Bakersfield; San Gorgonio Pass, near Banning, east of Los Angeles; and the new, rapidly growing wind resource area near Rio Vista in Solano County. Some of that area’s largest turbines are visible from Antioch and Pittsburg across New York Slough.
Those large, slower-turning blades provide less of a danger to flying birds than do the smaller, faster-turning blades common to the Altamont Pass area.
By By Chris Metinko
Contra Costa Times
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9 February 2007
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