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East Kern wind energy project gets OK to kill condors

A new wind turbine project approved for an area near Mojave for the first time will allow developers to kill condors without prosecution.

Under an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alta Windpower Development, LLC, will be shielded from prosecution if a condor is fatally injured at the 2,300-acre site during the projected 30-year lifetime of the project, the Los Angeles Times reported.

If a condor is hit by a turbine blade, Alta Windpower will be required to shut down daytime operations and take more steps to reduce the threat to the birds, according to a BLM news release issued Friday.

Elaborate “condor detection and avoidance measures,” will be installed, the news release said.

The company plans to install a detection system designed to switch off its 456-foot-tall turbines when condors are spotted nearby, the L.A. Times reported. The paper said the detector is to include a telemetry system to track signals from radio transmitters attached to condors flying within 16 miles of the facility, radar to detect untagged birds and on-site biologists to report condor sightings. If a condor ventures within 2 miles, the speed of rotating turbine blades will be reduced from 150 mph to 15 mph within two minutes, and down to 3 mph a few minutes after that, said officials of Terra-Gen Power.

Alta Windpower is a subsidiary of Terra-Gen.

Terra-Gen voluntarily reduced the size of the project from 106 turbines to 51 spread across 4 square miles of mostly BLM land to minimize effects on wildlife, including golden eagles.

Nevertheless, environmentalists were not happy.

“This blindsided folks,” Kelly Fuller of the American Bird Conservancy told The New York Times, adding that the public was not aware that allowing unpenalized condor deaths was being considered there.

In a news release, she wrote that “allowing the legal killing of one of the most imperiled birds in the United States threatens endangered species conservation efforts across the country.”

Lisa Belenky, a lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “We really need a global solution, not one at a time.”

An overall approach to wind-energy projects by the Interior Department, mirroring the landscape approach to desert-based solar sites, should be instituted, she told The New York Times.

Alta Windpower also promised to contribute to the Condor Recovery Program and is required to put an eagle conservation plan in place.

Terra-Gen Power submitted applications to Kern County to use more than 500 acres of private land, bringing the project to 2,592 acres, according to county records. Kern County supervisors approved the project in January.

The East Alta Wind Energy Project will employ an estimated 260 workers and generate 15 permanent jobs, according to the BLM. The facility is anticipated to be capable of generating up to 153 megawatts of power, the news release said.

The full details of the decision and grant are available at http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/ridgecrest/alta_east_wind_project.html