U.S. Plans to Let California Wind Farm Kill Eagles

Friday, September 27, 2013

No one is quite sure how many eagles are killed every year by wind turbines, but a draft environmental report (pdf) by the federal government proposes for the first time that the “takings” be made legal.with permits at a wind farm in Northern California.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plan is to issue a golden eagle take permit to Shiloh IV Wind Project, which operates 50 turbines on 3,500 acres in Solano County. In exchange for retrofitting 133 nearby power poles to prevent bird electrocution, and taking other precautionary measures, the company would be allowed to kill five eagles over five years.

“It really does set a precedent,” FWS Deputy Assistant Regional Director Scott Flaherty told Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle. At least a dozen other wind farms have applied for permits.

California, like the rest of the nation, is struggling with an issue that sets environmentalist against environmentalist as the emergence of wind power, a promising alternative to carbon-based energy sources, poses a growing threat to endangered and fragile species. Utilities are required by state law to get 33% of their electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2020. Around 20% of electricity sold by Pacific Gas & Electric is from renewable energy.

Back in May, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced for the first time that it wouldn’t prosecute a wind farm developer if an endangered California wild condor dies in the blades of one its turbines. But it only gets to kill one condor over the project’s expected 30-year life. At the time, Kelly Fuller, wind campaign coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy, asked the Los Angeles Times, “If taking a condor is allowed, what won’t be allowed?”

The answer, for now, is probably eagles, which are protected by the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The 1940 law prohibits the taking of the birds without a permit from the U.S. Department of the Interior, but accidents happen. An FWS study published earlier this year in the Journal of Raptor Research identified 67 bald and golden eagle deaths from wind turbines over five years, but said the actual number was almost certainly much higher. The vast majority of deaths were in California and Wyoming.

That study relied on voluntary reporting by wind farm owners and excluded the most deadly locale of all, a cluster of wind farms in California’s Altamont Pass, where 60 eagles a year reportedly die. It is known to some as the “Cuisinart of the Air.” The Obama Administration does not fine or prosecute companies for eagle deaths.

The public has 45 days to comment on the government’s proposal before any formal action is taken.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Windfarm to Get Permission to Kill Eagles (by Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle)

Shiloh IV Wind Project Eagle Conservation Plan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) (pdf)

CA Wind Facilities Want Permits that Will Allow Them to Harm Eagles (by Chris Clarke, KCET)

Eagle Permit Extensions Could be a Boon for the Wind Industry (by Tay Wiles, High Country News)

Eagle Deaths by Wind Farms “Substantially” Underestimated: Study (by Dina Cappiello, Associated Press)

No Federal Prosecution if Wind Turbine Kills Endangered Condor (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Leave a comment