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BLM approves Terra-Gen wind farm, outrages conservation groups

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management upset conservation groups May 24 when it approved a wind farm in California and allowed the developer, a subsidiary of Terra-Gen Power LLC, to kill one California condor in the course of operating the facility.

Regulators gave Alta Windpower Development the go-ahead to develop a 153-MW wind farm that comprises 51 turbines on roughly 2,000 acres of public land and 593 acres of private land in Southern California. In order to protect the BLM and the developer from violating the Endangered Species Act, Alta Windpower is allowed to take one condor during its 30-year lease.

The BLM said the installation will use “cutting-edge technology to detect and avoid impacts” to eagles and condors.

“Today’s approval of the Alta East Wind project builds upon the U.S. Department of the Interior’s commitment to expand renewable energy on public lands in a reasonable way,” BLM California State Director Jim Kenna said in a statement. “Not only does this project create good jobs and generate clean and reliable power, but we’ve also worked closely with the company and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the protection of eagles and California condors.”

But conservation groups, including the American Bird Conservancy, were not impressed by the efforts regulators took to minimize the impact the wind farm could have. The BLM decision “would for the first time allow a wind farm to kill an endangered California condor without danger of prosecution,” the American Bird Conservancy said in a May 24 press release.

“The Department of Interior has signaled today that it is willing to sacrifice the money and hard work that are spent on private conservation efforts to recover endangered species in order to build wind farms,” ABC Wind Campaign Coordinator Kelly Fuller said in a statement. “ABC is extremely concerned about the negative effects that this decision could have not only on the condor recovery program, but also on the recovery programs that rely on public-private partnerships, such as for whooping cranes.” The ABC called for the DOI to reverse the decision.

The Alta East Wind project will be located three miles northwest of Mojave, Calif., and 11 miles east of Tehachapi, Calif. It is slated to connect to Southern California Edison Co.’s Wind Hub substation.

The Los Angeles Times reported May 24 that the installation will use sensors to detect when condors are nearby, and the turbines will shut down “before they slice into one of the birds.”

“When it comes to wind energy production, this project is leading the way in condor avoidance,” Randy Hoyle, head of wind and solar development for Terra-Gen, told the Los Angeles Times.

According to the BLM, “in the unlikely event that a condor is struck by a turbine blade,” Alta Windpower will be forced to cease daytime operations and implement additional measures to ensure additional harm is not done. For golden eagles, Terra-Gen has applied for a take permit, and the BLM is requiring the company to develop an eagle conservation plan.

“This is a positive step as we continue to support the conservation and recovery of condors,” Ren Lohoefener, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest region, said in a statement. “This project provides a basis for future consultations and an opportunity to engage other renewable energy companies and stakeholders with best practices that support condor recovery.”

According to the American Bird Conservancy, fewer than 250 California condors remain in the wild.

Terra-Gen is a subsidiary of ArcLight Capital Partners LLC.