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.

5 Chapters win Collaborative Funding grants for 2011

Audubon California announced the winners of 2011 Collaborative Funding, emphasizing that two of the grant projects will create templates that can be shared throughout the Chapter network.

-San Diego Audubon $ 3,000 with matching funds of $ 18,500 from the San Diego Audubon Society and Patagonia to develop and implement a Wildlife Conservationist Training Program to create a base of new long-term wildlife advocates mentored by San Diego Audubon’s current conservationists, and to share the program with other chapters.

-Fresno Audubon $ 3,000 with matching funds of $500 and $12,000 in in-kind volunteer hours from the chapter for Advocating for the Conservation of the Environment (ACTE) program to enlist new, diverse youth in conservation of birds, and to provide and monitor nest boxes for Barn Owl and other species in the Central Valley.

-Plumas Audubon $ 2,297.95 with matching funds of $1,949.85 from Eagle Optics and $ 260 from chapter members for an education program that uses binoculars and field guides to learn about migratory birds in Important Bird Areas in Plumas County.

-Peregrine Audubon $ 2,500 to write the detailed curriculum on their successful education program FLIGHT SCHOOL to distribute to Audubon chapters throughout California.

-Eastern Sierra Audubon $ 2,000 with $ 8,000 in matching funds from Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Sorensens Resort, and the chapter to bring Jack Laws to classrooms in 10 schools the Eastern Sierra to engage youth in Sierra nature and birds.

Audubon California received proposals were received from 7 chapters requesting a total of $ 19,936 with matching funds of over $ 30,000, and we wish we could fund them all.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Audubon files lawsut over solar project in Panoche Valley

Hollister, CA – Following the approval of a conditional use permit and other authorizations for the Panoche Valley Solar Project, Save Panoche Valley and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society joined in filing a petition in Superior Court challenging the certification of the Panoche Valley project Environmental Impact Report. A project of Solargen Energy, Inc., the entire proposed project footprint is roughly 5,000 acres of grazing land in Eastern San Benito County.

The Panoche Valley is designated Core Habitat for the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, San Joaquin kit fox, and giant kangaroo rat, all federally and state endangered species. Additionally, the valley is designated an Audubon Important Bird Area of Global Significance due to rare bird species, including the Mountain Plover, a candidate for the federal endangered species list.

The petition itemizes numerous inadequacies in the environmental analysis that is provided to inform decision-makers.

“The environmental analysis has been reviewed by the California Department of Fish and Game and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Both of these agencies, as well as numerous environmental organizations, have found the analysis, as well as the mitigations that are proposed to compensate for harmful impacts on endangered species, to be grossly inadequate. In other words, the project might have irreversible impacts on the survival of several species, and it has the potential to significantly contribute to the risk of extinction of these species” said Shani Kleinhaus, Santa Clara Valley Audubon’s environmental advocate.

The petition goes on to list inadequacies in the analysis of impacts on air quality, prime farmland, soil erosion, cultural resources, hazardous materials and emissions, hydrology and water quality, wildfires, and noise. “At its most basic level, the environmental document is supposed to inform the public and decision-making body of the full extent of impacts the project will have on the environment and on public safety and health. This document was so quickly put together it never addressed these basic issues or do so only in a cursory manner,” said Kleinhaus. “In no way does this environmental impact report provide the public and public officials with the information necessary to make an informed decision as to the losses, the costs and the risks associated with this project.”

The draft environmental impact report looked at four different project alternatives, and even with the smallest sized alternative, government agencies found irreversible, unmitigable impacts on wildlife and habitat. “One of many issues with this analysis was the narrow range of alternatives that were studied,” said Kleinhaus. “We expected alternatives to review brownfield sites, distributed solar as an alternative, and other locations in San Benito Co. None of these were analyzed. In addition, there is a feasible alternative that is less environmentally damaging, which involves developing the solar project on the Westlands property in Fresno County.”

“Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society supports sustainable energy programs that foster the development of renewable energy resources while focusing on energy conservation. We encourage the promotion of solar energy projects, policies and programs that focus on solar energy production in existing and planned communities, but do not impact landscapes that have agricultural or habitat value,” said Kleinhaus. “We support projects that do not endanger species, or the survival and health of the residents of rural communities.”