USA - More wind turbine lawsuits filed

Wind turbines killing hundreds of birds of prey

Two more groups have filed lawsuits over wind turbines in the Altamont Pass, both claiming that Alameda County officials aren’t moving fast enough to prevent windmills from killing hundreds of birds of prey. Last week, Californians for Renewable Energy filed suit against Alameda County over renewal permits for about 3,600 wind turbines. They are among 5,400 turbines in the 50,000-acre Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in Alameda and Contra Costa counties and include windmills that are about 20 years old. The Golden Gate Audubon Society followed up that action with a similar lawsuit Monday. The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against turbine owners a year ago and claimed that windmills kill birds in violation of state and federal law. The county approved the permits in July with the condition that the wind turbine owners remove about 100 windmills which, because of their location, are most lethal to birds.

Wind turbine owners must also shut down half of their turbines for two months starting today, and shut down the other half for two months starting Jan. 1. They must also gradually replace the old windmills with modern turbines, which are taller and larger, over the next 13 years. One modern machine can produce as much electricity as several old turbines, and power companies and environmental groups agree that birds would be better able to see and avoid the larger windmills. John Gabrielli, the Sacramento attorney who represents the renewable energy group, said his clients are concerned that the county will postpone studies on how many birds the windmills kill, possibly by as long as two or three years. “They’re still claiming they have a full exemption from environmental laws,” Gabrielli said. “We’re not going to let that go by without challenging it.”
Elizabeth Murdoch, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said a new study could show how to reduce bird deaths by 50 percentto 85 percent. It could be done through a combination of new turbines, permanent shutdown of more of the hazardous turbines and shutdown of all turbines during the fall and winter migration season, when eagles and hawks from all over the western U.S. fly though the Diablo Range. “We believe the county has at its fingertips the best recommendation to get us to a 50 percent reduction, and what they’ve done is come up with a recommendation that doesn’t get us anywhere near that 50 percent,” she said.

She added that any solution that minimizes bird deaths would have far-reaching effects on wind power and efforts to protect birds of prey. “There are a lot of eyes around the country and around the world watching to see how this will be resolved,” Murdoch said. Steve Stengel, spokesman for Florida Power & Light, owner of most of the wind turbines, said he thought the county’s recommendation was a good start.

“Regardless of the lawsuits going forward, the seasonal shutdown is the right thing to do,” he said. “It shows we’re serious about reducing the number of collisions in the Altamont.” The power company already has replaced some of its wind turbines with new models. Stengel said further environmental review would set a standard for future windmill replacement. Chris Gray, chief of staff for Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, said county supervisors had determined, on advice from their legal counsel, that new environmental reviews weren’t needed because the permits are for wind turbines that are already in place. He added that a study last year for the California Energy Commission, which estimates between 1,766 and 4,721 bird deaths each year, is based on theoretical projections. “The documented number of bird kills is a small fraction of that,” he said, and added that detailed records are required under the renewed permits. “All of the data we’re collecting now can go into that environmental impact report and make it a better document.” Gabrielli acknowledged that the compromise reached in July will help, but said the group believes state environmental law will support CARE’s insistence on detailed studies right away. “What we’re saying is, let the judge settle this; then we can sit down with the judge’s assistance and work out a viable program,” he said.
Online Editorial, www.windfair.net
Edited by Trevor Sievert, Online Editorial Journalist
USA, wind energy, wind turbine, wind farm, renewable energy, wind power, rotorblade, offshore onshore

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