Two supervisors in Riverside County, one of California’s top producers of wind energy, want the region to be exempt from new statewide guidelines aimed at reducing the deaths of hawks, bats, owls and other animals from windmills.
The five-member board of supervisors is scheduled to vote today on a resolution from supervisors Roy Wilson and Marion Ashley requesting that exemption from the California Energy Commission. The guidelines, poised to be adopted by the energy commission on Sept. 26, would be voluntary.
Wilson said the guidelines would recommend that the county do more studies before approving wind-energy projects or replacing old turbines with more efficient ones that turn slower and are less likely to kill birds.
“We’ve done studies in our areas and we don’t have the same problems as Altamont Pass and we don’t think we should be shut down while they do more studies and come back and tell us what we already know,” Wilson said.
Windmills in Northern California’s Altamont Pass are known for killing a lot of birds. While the Inland region has the lowest number of bird fatalities associated with wind farms statewide, an average of 6,670 birds are killed annually in the San Gorgonio Pass and the Palm Springs area, according to a 2005 study by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The guidelines were crafted during the past two years by the energy commission and the California Department of Fish And Game. The effort included a series of workshops, including one in January at UC Riverside. The purpose of the guidelines is to protect the state’s wildlife resources while trying to increase California’s portfolio of renewable energies to 33 percent by 2020, according to the commission’s committee report.
Jeff Morgan, chairman of the Tahquitz group of the Sierra Club’s San Gorgonio chapter, said Riverside County relies on a report known as the Anderson study to make decisions about turbines.
“It barely scratches the surface,” he said of the study.
Morgan said the state’s guidelines could help the county locate wind turbines away from migratory bird routes and offer more details on their effects on wildlife.
Rick York, who supervises the biological unit at the energy commission, said the document is aimed at helping lawmakers who issue permits for wind-energy projects to understand state and federal laws that protect birds and offer measures to prevent the deaths.
The guidelines, he said, would require only some areas to conduct very thorough surveys. York said the commission has no regulatory authority over the projects.
“These guidelines are designed to help them,” York said about area lawmakers. “That’s what this is all about.”
Randy Scott, chief of advance planning for San Bernardino County, said the county doesn’t have wind farms, but could some day.
The San Gorgonio Pass area produces 25 percent of the energy generated by wind in California each year. Wilson said there is pressure to expand the so-called wind-energy zone in that part of Riverside County, but he opposes the idea.
“We need to improve the efficiency of that area,” he said.
By Jennifer Bowles
18 September 2007