While making a presentation recently to a meeting of the Audubon Society in North Las Vegas, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist Brian Novosak described the fowl carnage taking place at the Altamont Pass Wind farm in the Diablo Range east of San Francisco.
Altamont Pass was built in the 1970s and has about 5,000 relatively small wind turbines, compared to more modern wind turbines with fan blades as long as 300 feet. Novosak said that between 2005 and 2010 it is estimated anywhere from 55 to 94 golden eagles were killed each year, as well as upwards of 718 burrowing owls and up to 9,300 passerines (your basic songbirds).
“The Fish & Wildlife Service is getting more aggressive with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” Novosak said. “We are requiring projects to complete an eagle conservation plan and an avian and bat protection plan. Those are measures where we sit down with the applicant and we talk specifically about birds. We get solar and wind companies that don’t know anything about birds, don’t know anything about wildlife, they sit down and have to focus with us and consider these impacts.”
Closer to home is Pattern Energy’s Spring Valley Wind farm, which spreads out over 12 square miles of Bureau of Land Management property near Ely, which Novosak said has a radar system that can detect birds and bats and slow down the turbines to reduce risk of collision.
In response to a question from the audience, the biologist said a golden eagle had been killed recently at Spring Valley Wind. Though the killing of migratory birds can carry a penalty of a $10,000 fine or 10 years in jail, Novosak said, Spring Valley has no “takings” permit.
Bureau of Land Management spokesman, Chris Henefeld, confirmed a carcass of a golden eagle was discovered at the Spring Valley Wind Energy facility during a routine search on Feb. 25. The bird’s death is estimated to have occurred five days earlier and it is presumed to be due to a collision with a turbine fan blade.
“Pattern Energy is coordinating with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), in accordance with their Special Purpose Permit and Avian and Bat Protection Plan (ABPP),” Henefeld said in an email. “The day following the discovery, the golden eagle was turned over to a FWS law enforcement officer. That same week Pattern Energy initiated mortality surveys around the remaining 44 turbines, as outlined in the ABPP. They also began eagle nest surveys of suitable nesting habitat within a 10-mile buffer around the wind farm.”
Henefeld said Spring Valley wind has a mortality threshold for golden eagles of one.
If another golden eagle is killed a Technical Advisory Committee – comprised of biologists from federal and state agencies – will meet and make recommendations to the BLM about what mitigation to take, which could curtail operation of turbines or even shut down turbines.
The federal government’s disparate treatment of various industries whose operations have resulted in the deaths of eagles or migratory birds has become an issue of late.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future,” reported that in 2011 the Fish & Wildlife Service filed criminal indictments against three North Dakota oil well drillers. One was indicted for killing a single Say’s Phoebe, which is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Meanwhile, Bryce relates, at the Pine Tree wind farm, located in the Tehachapi Mountains northwest of Los Angeles, there have been nine golden eagle carcasses recovered by Fish & Wildlife since 2009. There have been no indictments. A special agent in charge of law enforcement for the agency would only say “it is an ongoing criminal investigation.”
The question remains: What will happen at Spring Valley Wind if another eagle is killed?
Adding to the intrigue, this past week the Interior Department gave the go-ahead for a second utility-scale wind farm on public land in Nevada. This one is east of Searchlight, near Lake Mohave, home to bald and golden eagles.
Meanwhile, a bill has been introduced in the state Legislature to increase the percent of electricity that must come from renewable generation by 2025 from 25 percent to 35 percent – with no regard for cost or consequence.
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