Monday, December 6, 2010

Audubon Society Chapters, California Attorney General and Wind Companies reach agreement on Altamont pass

(Berkeley, California, December 6, 2010) In cooperation with the California Attorney General’s Office, five Bay Area Audubon Society chapters and Californians for Renewable Energy (CaRE) have reached an agreement with wind energy operators owned by NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, to expedite the replacement of old wind turbines in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area with new, larger wind turbines that are less likely to harm birds.

Golden Gate Audubon, Santa Clara Valley Audubon, Mt. Diablo Audubon, Ohlone Audubon, and Marin Audubon joined the Attorney General’s Office in negotiating an agreement that addresses the state’s need for renewable wind energy and the state’s obligation to protect resident and migratory birds.

“Our agreement sets an aggressive schedule for removing the old-generation turbines and replacing them with new-generation turbines that should substantially reduce impacts to birds,” said Michael Lynes, Conservation Director with the Golden Gate Audubon Society. “According to experts studying the Altamont Pass, the removal of the old turbines and replacement with properly-sited turbines may reduce impacts to birds by as much as 80%.”

Altamont Pass was heavily developed for wind power generation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, eventually including more than 5800 turbines covering a 56 mi2 area in eastern Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. These lands at one time provided ample habitat for birds and still serves as an important migratory corridor for Golden Eagles and other raptors. For much of the last decade, the Bay Area Audubon chapters and the operating wind companies have struggled to agree on ways to reduce impacts to birds, bats and other wildlife while fostering the environmental and economic benefits of wind energy generation in the Altamont Pass.

The new agreement reflects the consensus of the Alameda County Scientific Review Committee that the only way to significantly reduce impacts to birds and keep wind energy generation in Altamont Pass is to remove the old-generation wind turbines and replace them with better sited, new-generation models. And, regardless of whether the NextEra Energy Resources companies replace all of their turbines on this expedited schedule, they have committed to ceasing all operations of their old turbines by the end of 2015, three years before they are required to do so under their current permits.

“This agreement addresses the problem arising throughout the state: balancing the need for renewable energy generation with subsequent impacts to wildlife,” said Bob Power, Executive Director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. “We appreciate NextEra leading the way in the Altamont Pass to remove the old turbines and properly install new ones that should significantly reduce risks to birds. We are also mindful that impacts to wildlife will continue and the Audubon chapters will remain engaged in conservation planning and advocacy on behalf of birds and other wildlife in the Altamont Pass and throughout the Bay Area.”

Golden Gate Audubon Society, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Marin Audubon Society, Mt. Diablo Audubon Society, and Ohlone Audubon Society are independent nonprofit organizations dedicated to protecting birds, other wildlife, and their natural habitats. They conserve and restore wildlife habitats, connect people of all ages and backgrounds with the natural world, and educate and engage Bay Area residents in the protection of our shared, local environment.


Garry George said...

Great to finally see progress on this black eye of wind energy.

thrumyi said...

Hat's off to Golden Gate, Santa Clara Valley, Mt. Diablo, Ohlone, and Marin Audubon Chapters. Seems like a really big step not only physically but figuratively too. You must of worked hard: thank you.

Debi said...

This achievement took heroic persistence and patience on the part of the individual activists, attending meetings, reading documents, writing documents, keeping up-to-date on the relevant literature....and it can't be done without contributions to keep these chapters functioning. And it's not over yet, it never is. Constant vigilance is required.
Now on to saving Panoche Valley!

Richard Drechsler said...

During the last 30 years about 250,000 birds and bats have been eviscerated by the rotating blades of the wind turbines at Altamont Pass, Ca.

Ironically, the lives of nearly all the birds here are protected by two or three federal laws.

Another thing that this press release does not tell you is that the settlement only requires that 44% of the offending wind turbines, those owned by NextEra Energy (formally Florida Power and Light), be replaced.

And the birds will have to wait five years until these 44% are swapped for safer, but not safe turbine technology.

Monitoring and enforcement agencies such "Department of Fish and Wildlife" or "Department of the Interior" are also conspicuously missing from this agreement.

In short this "settlement" puts us on course for the deaths of thousands of birds annually, forever: All from a single cause on a single 56 sq.mile plot of land in N. California.

What should make us most concerned is the language used by Audubon in this press release. Bob Power, Exec. Dir. of Santa Clara Audubon condones compromise in:

"balancing the need for renewable
energy generation with subsequent
impacts to wildlife"

Let's recall that every new form of energy, since the prehistoric discovery flint, has been greeted by humans with enough enthusiasm to rationalize polluting and killing. Remember the promise of nuclear energy and the hydroelectric dam?

Mr. Power's statement will become the credo of every company who, after getting certified as "Green", will find it too costly to "balance" the habitat that they plan to ransack. He should allow these companies to speak for themselves.

Bob Power said...

I believe Richard Drechsler does a good job representing the frustrations we all have as we see raptors and other species being killed needlessly at Altamont. It would be good however to paint a complete picture.
Yes, NextEra Energy is the only wind company to sign this agreement. But they are the largest. And this agreement eliminates the argument that repowering can't be done or it's too expensive. The agreement sets a precedent for permits and adaptive management of the remaining turbines.
-- Mr. Drechsler states that the birds will have to wait five years.--
Nov. 2015 is the fallback date, should nothing else happen, when NextEra will shut down all existing old technology turbines. However, every effort is being made to repower phase 1 by 2011, Phase 2 by 2012, and Phase 3 by 2013. A far superior scenario than the 2018 expiration date of the current permits.
-- Mr. Drechsler points out the agencies that are absent from the agreement.-- It's important to understand that these agencies have overseen what's happened at Altamont for 30 years. Their lack of enforcement compelled the Audubon chapters to sue the county in 2004. What the current agreement does have, is the Attorney General as a party to the agreement, bringing oversight to operations in Altamont that the Audubons have never had.
--Mr. Drechsler closes by taking me to task for compromising.-- If we chose not to compromise, we would condone the status quo through 2018. By developing this agreement with the Wind Companies and the Attorney General's office the Audubon's have set in motion an end to this outdated technology and given Altamont a reasonable chance at an 80% reduction in raptor mortality. I personally am proud of this agreement and what it means for the raptors and other bird species at Altamont.