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Altamont wind farm’s permit extended despite fear of bird deaths  

The Audubon Society estimates that the three-year extension will lead to the deaths of 1,900 birds, including protected raptors such as hawks, eagles and owls.

Credit:  By Rachel Swan | San Francisco Chronicle | Tuesday, March 24, 2015 | www.sfgate.com ~~

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to extend permit rights for Altamont Winds Inc. to operate in the Altamont Pass, despite charges by environmentalists that the company’s technology is outdated and will unnecessarily kill nearly 2,000 birds.

The decision came after nearly two hours of contentious debate that pitted environmental groups against labor advocates, and against a local company that says it’s being upstaged by giant multinational competitors. Environmentalists accuse Altamont Winds of dragging its heels on a “repowering” process that would replace its current windmill fleet with higher-efficiency turbines that would be less dangerous to birds – mostly because the company would need fewer of them to meet the same energy needs and could move them to safer locations.

Three other companies at Altamont began repowering their turbine fleets in 2007 in response to a lawsuit from five Audubon chapters. Altamont Winds, which declined to join the settlement, had agreed to phase out 25 percent of its old turbines by 2013 in a separate deal with the county.

When that deadline came, the company asked the county for a two-year extension to 2015. The company then asked for an additional extension of three years, but in February the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments – a commission that handles permitting and planning – denied the request. The company appealed to the county supervisors, who granted the three-year extension over objections from environmental groups.

Representatives of Altamont Winds seemed confident that they could meet the new deadline. President Rick Koebbe said the company had already invested some $1 million in the repowering process, but that it had stumbled into regulatory roadblocks, mostly from the California Independent System Operator, the nonprofit entity that oversees the state’s electrical power system.

He said it’s unfair to blame windmills for the thousands of bird deaths in the area, given that they could easily have been poisoned by rodent pesticides. Unions that supported the company argued that shutting down Altamont Winds would eliminate union jobs and stymie the company’s efforts to curb air pollution.

“The environmental benefits of wind power are well known,” said Caitlin Grant, the company’s operations manager, arguing that wind turbines keep more than 600 million pounds of toxic pollution out of the air every year.

Those arguments found favor with supervisors Scott Haggerty, Nate Miley and Richard Valle, who voted to grant the extension. Supervisors Wilma Chan and Keith Carson opposed the extension.

Speaking against the extension, Audubon Society executive director Cindy Margulis called Altamont Winds’ fleet an “infrastructure of death” and argued that it’s possible to generate wind power without using “old-fashioned 1980s-era relics.”

The Audubon Society estimates that the three-year extension will lead to the deaths of 1,900 birds, including protected raptors such as hawks, eagles and owls.

Miley and Haggerty were ultimately convinced by Valle’s point that if the 40 employees of Altamont Winds lose their jobs, they’ll be unable to support their families. Twenty-three of those employees have children, Valle said. “It’s those children who are important to me.”

Source:  By Rachel Swan | San Francisco Chronicle | Tuesday, March 24, 2015 | www.sfgate.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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