Wind turbines flourishing in California’s Altamont and Tehachapi passes need tighter federal regulation, environmentalists told lawmakers Tuesday.
Wind energy officials disagree. Thus the battle is joined, at a politically sensitive time.
With tax credits up in the air and a long-awaited study arriving on how wind turbines kill birds and bats, strong opinions are blowing across Capitol Hill.
As often happens, the central policy question pits rules against recommendations.
Environmental groups want binding rules, to protect the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 birds killed annually by wind turbines.
“Collaborative efforts to successfully address the impacts of wind projects on birds and wildlife have been a failure,” Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy told a House panel.
Fry said these requirements could include installing radars so turbines could be shut down when flocks of birds are approaching.
Wind energy companies and their congressional allies prefer nonbinding recommendations, to avoid smothering an industry poised for fast growth.
Although wind power accounted for less than 1% of the nation’s total energy supply last year, the Energy Department wants this increased to 5% by 2020.
“We’re at a typical point for these environmentalists,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.
“At the end of the day, they don’t want new energy supplies; at least, the extremists don’t.”
In California, wind power accounts for 1.8% of the state’s energy production. This is less than geothermal, biomass or other renewable sources, according to the California Energy Commission.
It is growing, though, with nationwide wind energy production rising by 26% last year.
Already, the Altamont Pass separating Livermore from the San Joaquin Valley is home to the world’s largest collection of wind turbines. The Tehachapi Pass south of Bakersfield lays claim to the second-largest wind farm.
Nunes will be at ground zero for part of the fight, as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
This year, the powerful committee is preparing to renew the tax credits provided to wind power producers.
Producers receive a 1.9 cent-per-kilowatt hour tax credit for wind energy during the first 10 years of a facility’s operation. Installed wind turbines currently produce enough power to serve the equivalent of 3 million households nationwide, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
“Wind power must be a part of the [energy] solution,” Rep. Bill Sali, R-Idaho, said at the hearing conducted by the House subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife and oceans.
“Our policy can no longer be simply to say ‘no’ to each and every energy source.”
This year, some environmental groups hope Congress will use the politically popular tax credits as leverage to impose new wind power rules.
The environmentalists also want stricter enforcement of existing laws.
For instance, by some estimates, more than 1,000 golden eagles have been killed by wind turbines in the Altamont Pass. So far, though, Fish and Wildlife Service officials have not charged any of the turbine operators with harming the protected bird.
“Rather than seeking to prosecute … the service prefers to work with companies to encourage them to take mitigation steps to avoid future harm,” Fish and Wildlife Service director H. Dale Hall testified.
More details on bird mortalities are expected Thursday, when the National Academy of Sciences issues a major report on the environmental impacts of wind power.
The study focuses on East Coast states, including Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
By Michael Doyle / Bee Washington Bureau
2 May 2007
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