Assembly Bill 511, authored by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Solano, was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown recently.
Yamada said the bill will help save the lives of pilots who fly near unmarked and nearly invisible meteorological evaluation towers. Yamada and her staff have worked for two years to overcome wind energy industry opposition to what she called a “common sense measure.”
“With the Governor’s signature, wind energy companies in California will no longer be able to skirt Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety requirements for marking METs when they are constructed just under the existing 200 feet federal standard,” Yamada said in a press release.
On Jan/ 10, 2011, Stephen Allen, an experienced and respected agricultural pilot from Courtland, died when his plane struck an unmarked MET while seeding a field at Webb Tract in Contra Costa County. Witnesses at the scene claimed Allen never attempted to avoid the tower, indicating he likely never saw it before crashing into it. FAA standards require towers 200 feet and higher to be clearly marked with alternating bands of orange and white, and other visual cues. The MET that ended Allen’s life was legally unmarked at 198 feet tall.
Meeting California’s highest-in-the-nation renewable portfolio standard of 33 percent by 2020 will require more reliance on wind energy. Wind farm developers use METs to measure wind currents to find the best locations for new wind farms. Developers erect these towers to almost
200 feet high (just short of FAA regulation) on rural and isolated lands, assembling them nearly overnight using a skinny galvanized steel pole stabilized by guy wires. These combined factors make each MET a potential deadly hazard for low-flying pilots, said Yamada.
Responding to wind energy opposition, Yamada amended AB 511 to restrict marking requirements to towers erected on agricultural land and areas within one mile of agricultural land (as defined by the Williamson Act) and to protect developers from conflicting marking requirements for local permits. The bill requires towers between 50 and 200 feet high, to display orange and white striping, tracking balls on guy (support) wires and high visibility sleeves.
AB 511 requirements become effective Jan. 1.
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