A green power project proposed for the north state has drawn questions and concerns from nature lovers about how many birds it could kill.
In comments on the Hatchet Ridge Wind Project’s draft environmental impact report filed last week, the Wintu Audubon Society asks for additional studies on the effect that 44 turbines would have on migrating birds. Of the 16 comments received as of Friday afternoon, a quarter touched on that issue, said Bill Walker, senior planner for Shasta County.
The EIR estimated that the turbines proposed for a ridge near Burney would kill a bald eagle every two to three years, as well as about seven birds a year.
“It would be a significant impact,” Walker said.
But the wind turbines of today don’t do anywhere near the damage to fowl as the first windmills for public power did, said George Hardie of Babcock and Brown, one of the leading financiers of Hatchet Ridge.
In particular, the thousands of turbines at the Altamont Pass Wind Farm, built in the early 1980s near the San Francisco Bay area, continue to be the model for a problem project.
Each year, the approximately 5,000 windmills at Altamont kill between 1,700 and 4,700 birds, according to a 2004 California Energy Commission Kreport.
“It’s certainly been a black eye for the industry,” Hardie said.
With larger, more efficient turbines than Altamont, the 44 turbines at Hatchet Ridge would produce about the same amount of power – 125 megawatts versus 100 megawatts.
As part of the planning process for Hatchet Ridge, scientists have been studying which birds fly over the ridge and which ones live nearby, said Scott Piscitello, development director for Renewable Energy Systems Americas, the company hoping to build there.
“Those are the things that Altamont taught us,” he said. “The importance of doing these studies up front.”
The Wintu Audubon Society is questioning whether the company has done enough studies, including on geese that might pass over the ridge at night during spring and fall migrations, said Bill Oliver, society president.
He said he’d also like to see better plans for what to do if the turbines kill more birds than expected.
“There is supposed to be a mitigation if there is a problem,” he said.
Piscitello said the company is prepared to change the project if problems arise. Among potential changes in response to high bird mortality are shutting down the turbines during parts of the day or season; permanent shutdown of one or more turbines; and relocation of one or more turbines.
Having done its own unscientific studies near Hatchet Ridge – bird watching – Rob Santry, the Wintu Audubon Society’s vice president, said he thinks more research needs to be done before Hatchet Ridge is approved.
From Moose Camp near Burney, he said he’s gotten a view of Hatchet Ridge and has seen the sky full of flight.
“I saw thousands of snow geese pouring over the ridge,” he said.
By Dylan Darling
27 January 2008
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