Happy New Year!
An interesting - if somewhat belated - article on bird deaths at a wind farm in
California from the Los Angeles Times (via the Houston Chronicle, via
The article is heavy on spin, but it's difficult to judge its intended
direction (like a wrong 'un?) However, from the figures quoted I think I'd be
more concerned about having 7,000 high-rise buildings in my backyard than 7,000
(My apologies if the formatting of this message is messed up - my ISP's web
mail system has an insanely narrow text window which makes it impossible to
review the message before sending.)
Dec. 20, 2003, 1:17AM
Bird deaths causing concern about true value of wind farm
By RONE TEMPEST
Los Angeles Times
ALTAMONT PASS, Calif. -- When the giant Altamont wind farm sprouted here two
decades ago, the only major objections were aesthetic. Local residents didn't
appreciate the forest of 7,000 ungainly wind towers cluttering their view.
No one, apparently, thought about the birds.
Since the phalanx of giant windmills began churning the air above the Altamont
Pass east of San Francisco Bay, an estimated 22,000 birds have died, including
hundreds of golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, kestrels and other raptors, after
flying into the spinning blades of the wind turbines.
Now, some environmental groups that routinely supported wind power as a clean,
alternative source of electric power are opposing the renewal of permits for
the wind farm, the largest in the world in number of turbines, until steps are
taken to reduce the bird deaths.
"Renewing these permits without addressing the cumulative impacts of wind
energy on migratory birds, especially raptor species, will give a black eye to
wind power," said Michael Boyd, president of Californians for Renewable Energy,
a Santa Cruz-based organization that generally supports alternative energy
sources such as wind power. Joining in the effort is the Center for Biological
Diversity, a national nonprofit group known for its litigious approach to
The two organizations have asked the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to
reverse a recent decision by a local zoning board granting permit renewals to
some of the wind power operators. Quoting from recent research for the National
Renewable Energy Laboratory and the California Energy Commission, they estimate
that over the past 20 years, 22,000 birds have died in the Altamont windmills.
"The county did everyone a disservice by choosing to ignore the true impacts of
these turbines, which are the equivalent of a terrestrial Exxon Valdez every
year," said Jeff Miller, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The open country surrounding Altamont Pass is believed to contain one of the
largest populations of breeding pairs of golden eagles in the world. In the
fall, the large raptors, as well as thousands of the more common red-tailed
hawks, use the pass as a route to their winter homes in California's Central
There are 16 other major wind farms in the United States, but none comes close
to Altamont in the number of bird kills. In part, this is because of the
abundance of birds in the region. On a recent morning in the Altamont area,
visitors counted more than 30 red-tailed hawks and several kestrels perched in
trees and on fence posts or soaring in the currents high above the turbines.
The wind power industry, anxious to expand, describes the Altamont situation as
an anomaly that has provided valuable lessons for other wind farms, including
those in Southern California's Tehachapi area and the San Gorgonio Pass, which
the industry claims are much safer for birds.
For example, the new Foote Creek Rim wind farm near Arlington, Wyo., is also in
an area with heavy concentrations of golden eagles. Using data about eagle
flight patterns collected from Altamont, planners there were able to space rows
of turbines in a way that has avoided high numbers of bird deaths.
A 2001 report commissioned by the National Wind Coordinating Committee, an
industry-funded advocacy group, contends that the continued controversy over
bird kills, particularly at Altamont, has "delayed and even significantly
contributed to blocking the development of some wind plants in the U.S."
Researched by Wyoming-based Western EcoSystems Technology, the report contends
that many more birds are killed annually in collisions with vehicles (60
million), window panes (98 million) and communication towers (4 million) than
die nationwide in wind turbines (10,000 to 40,000).
Even the common household cat, wind power industry advocates argue, is
responsible for more bird deaths than turbines.
Paul Kerlinger, a New Jersey avian biologist who works regularly as an industry
consultant, contends that of all the main energy sources, excluding solar
power, wind is the least threatening to bird life.
"When you turn on your lights you kill something, no matter what the source of
electricity," said Kerlinger.
Industry officials said they felt blindsided by the recent environmental
opposition at Altamont.
"We felt that we were already way down the track in reducing avian fatalities,"
said Steven Steinhour, vice president of Seawest, a San Diego wind power
company with holdings in Altamont.
Steinhour, an avid bird watcher who specializes in project development for
Seawest, was incensed by the comparison of Altamont to the Exxon Valdez oil
"It's estimated that half a million birds died because of Exxon Valdez," said
Steinhour. "It would take 400 years to reach that number here."
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council estimates that 250,000 seabirds and
250 bald eagles died in the 1989 spill.
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