The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon issue a first-of-its-kind five-year permit for the take of golden eagles to a 102-MW wind project in California, protecting the plant’s operator from federal prosecution in exchange for certain mitigation measures.
Wind energy companies are not required to have eagle-take permits, but companies operating without one risk federal penalties, including criminal prosecution under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement announcing its decision.
In exchange for the permit, which allows the project to kill or otherwise injure up to five golden eagles over the five-year term, project operator EDF Renewable Energy will retrofit 133 electric distribution poles to minimize the potential for electrocutions in the area, as well as take other conservation and mitigation measures.
Those actions, the FWS said, will ensure that there is no net loss of eagle populations in the area.
“The Shiloh IV eagle permit sets a precedent for proactive and collaborative eagle conservation at wind farms in Northern California and beyond, and we commend EDF Renewable Energy for taking this critical step,” Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. “We encourage other wind power developers in the region to follow this model to reduce overall eagle mortality at wind farms while reducing their risk of prosecution for the take of eagles, particularly as they repower their developments with newer turbines.”
The 50-turbine Shiloh IV project operates on a 3,500-acre site near Rio Vista, Calif. It was repowered in 2012 in an operation that removed approximately 230 existing 100-kW wind turbine generators in the area.
The FWS announced the availability of its Finding of No Significant Impact and Final Environmental Assessment in the Federal Register on June 27. The FWS said it will issue the programmatic take eagle permit 30 days after publication.
“We anticipate that, by issuing a permit, the Service will ensure that take of eagles will be offset through implementation of [advanced conservation practices] and the retrofitting of additional utility power poles at levels above that currently undertaken by the utility company,” the FWS said in its finding. “Because the applicant would offset take through compensatory mitigation … we have determined there would be no significant adverse cumulative effects to golden eagle populations contributed by issuance of a programmatic eagle take permit to Shiloh IV.”
While it is the first permit to be issued, it is likely not the last.
FWS spokesman Scott Flaherty said that although the wind project is the first to secure a programmatic permit since they became available in 2009, at least three wind projects in the agency’s Pacific Southwest Region are seeking eagle-take permits.
The wind industry is feeling pressure to mitigate risks due to increased scrutiny because of its growing capacity and the Department of Justice’s first-ever prosecution of a wind farm operator for “unpermitted avian takings,” which resulted in Duke Energy Corp. agreeing to a $1 million settlement for killing 14 golden eagles and at least 149 other protected birds at two of the utility’s wind farms.
The EDF Group subsidiary had the option of applying for a 30-year permit under a rule published last year, but Flaherty said the company declined.
For its part, the wind industry has generally sought the longer-term permits under the argument that they are needed to match up with the long-term power purchase agreements typically signed for wind power.
The American Bird Conservancy, however, filed a challenge to that revised rule in U.S. District Court earlier this month, arguing that the 30-year period is too long and “eliminates crucial procedural and other safeguards for eagle populations without any adequate explanation.”
Flaherty said that of the three wind energy projects seeking eagle-take permits, two – the 153-MW Alta East project in Kern County, Calif., and a Sacramento Municipal Utility District project in Solano County – are seeking five-year permits, and one – Iberdrola SA’s 186-MW Tule Wind Energy Project – is seeking a 30-year permit.
According to SNL Energy records, project developer and operator EDF Renewable holds a 10% ownership interest in the Shiloh IV project while Marubeni Power America Inc., an indirect subsidiary of Marubeni Corp., holds a 90% ownership share.
The output generated by the facility is sold pursuant to a 25-year power purchase agreement with PG&E Corp. subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
EDF began permit discussions about the project during the summer of 2011 and submitted its formal application in March 2012, Flaherty said.
The Alta East wind project is owned by Global Infrastructure Management Participation LLC and ArcLight Capital Holdings LLC.