The National Audubon Society sues Bay Area county over new wind turbine project: ‘A population sink’
The National Audubon Society is suing Alameda County over its recent approval of a controversial new wind turbine facility at Altamont Pass. It’s been described as a “poorly planned project” that’s a threat to birds and bats in the area due to its lack of sufficient environmental review, according to a press release shared by the organization Wednesday.
Commissioned in 1981, The Altamont Pass wind farm was one of the first of its kind in the country and is also one of the most highly concentrated in the world, with 5,000 wind turbines built over a 56-square-mile area. The National Audubon Society argued the turbines have long been hazardous to migratory avian species such as the golden eagle, whose nesting population at Altamont Pass is the densest in the world, though their numbers have been declining in the region due to incidents related to the turbines, the press release stated. Populations of western burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks and tricolored blackbirds have also been impacted over the years.
Once considered at risk of extinction, golden eagles have been protected under the Bald and Gold Eagle Protection Act since 1940. Though they have since been delisted from the Endangered Species Act, they are still protected under federal law, and it’s illegal to kill one without a permit. The raptors boast seven-foot-wingspans and are often seen flying low near the turbines in Altamont Pass to avoid wind resistance and to hunt for ground squirrels and fish, though their keen eyesight doesn’t always help them avoid collisions with the spinning blades of the turbines.
This has resulted in the deaths of thousands of birds at Altamont Pass over the years, according to the American Eagle Foundation.
“Fifteen years ago, Alameda County and the wind companies settled a lawsuit with the Audubon chapters and committed to reduce bird deaths by 50% by 2009. With the approval of this project, the County is putting the Altamont Pass back on pace to kill as many Golden Eagles as it did 15 years ago,” Glenn Phillips, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said in the press release.
The project at Mulqueeny Ranch was approved by Alameda County supervisors on Oct. 7, despite an appeal from the National Audubon Society requesting that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors “hear its recommendations on how the project could be modified to reduce impacts to the birds.” The developer of the project, Brookfield Renewables, LLC, objected to the independent review.
The National Audubon Society also called the wind farm located between Livermore and Tracy a “black eye on the entire wind industry since its construction” and “a population sink” for Golden Eagles.
It’s the first time the organization has filed a lawsuit in opposition to a wind project in California.
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