Committee suggests too little is being done to prevent bird deaths
A scientific review committee monitoring avian death rates in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area has expressed skepticism there’s been enough progress in reducing them, although a report confirming those concerns likely will not be out until next month.
Alameda County’s Scientific Review Committee, a five-member panel that advises the county on progress in reducing bird deaths in the Altamont Pass windmill area, concluded late last year that measures taken by wind companies in the area have not done enough to reach a 50 percent reduction in raptor deaths by November 2009.
The 50 percent reduction was part of a settlement reached last January after a lawsuit was filed in October 2006 by the Golden Gate Audubon Society, Californians for Renewable Energy and four other local Audubon chapters challenging the county’s decision to renew permits for Altamont Pass wind turbines.
“That’s obviously the concern out there right now,” said Sandi Rivera, assistant planning director for Alameda County. “The (scientific review committee) believes unless something is done, we will not get to that number.”
After concluding the mitigation measures did not put the wind industry on pace to hit the agreed-upon reduction number, the committee asked for a four-month turbine shutdown – November through February – of the windmills in the Altamont. That’s two months longer than what wind operators already had accepted.
Two wind companies agreed to keep their turbines off until a mediation session could take place last week, but others restarted operation at the beginning of the year.
“This settlement was agreed to a little more than a year ago,” said Steven Stengel, a spokesman with FPL Energy, which has turbines in the Altamont Pass. “We have yet to see the data from that year. Let’s see the numbers first before we say things aren’t working.”
Next month may also see the release of data collected during the settlement’s first year on bird kills in the area, something all parties are waiting to review.
Nevertheless, the committee’s conclusion that wind companies are not on pace to reduce kills to the agreed-upon level distresses some.
“It’s alarming to hear they’re not going to make the proposed reduction,” said Elizabeth Murdock, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, a plaintiff in the 2006 lawsuit that led to the settlement. “They’re saying they’ve made a zero to negligible reduction in the mortality rate out there.”
The county’s scientific review committee visited the wind resource area in late December. During the visit, they recategorized nearly 100 turbines to the two levels of highest risk that contribute to bird kills. According to the committee, the turbines need to be removed or relocated to help reduce the rate of kills in the area.
“There needs to be a balanced approach when looking to reduce the bird collisions in the Altamont,” Stengel said. “We all want less collisions out there. At the same time, the people of California have said they want cleaner, more efficient energy. If you put the turbine owners out of business, where are you going to get that clean energy?”
The study that sparked perhaps the greatest debate about bird deaths in the Altamont came in 2004 from the California Energy Commission. It 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 fatalities involve as many as 116 golden eagles, 300 red-tailed hawks, 333 American kestrels and 380 burrowing owls, the study found.
By Chris Metinko
26 January 2008
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