Impact on Wildlife and California
A pair of stories in the last week detailed conflicts between San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) and national environmental groups over two separate wind projects. One of the conflicts appears to have been resolved amicably, while the other is headed to the courtroom. And each story involves the power of flight.
"There is no evidence that DDT harmed eagles in any way, but we know windmills actually do harm the eagles -- and environmentalists are all bent out of shape about endangered species status of eagles," says Milloy. "Well, those big Cuisinarts in the sky -- they seem to be whacking a lot of eagles."
The controversy surrounding wind farms in America has been brewing for over 25 years. The debate centers around the use of the deadly propeller style wind turbines and the large death toll to what are supposedly protected species. One of these species, the federally protected golden eagle, has been at the forefront of this debate from the beginning.
This is for good reason, because at Altamont Pass California, 50-75 golden eagles have been killed each year in the blades of the prop wind turbine.
Every day at wind farms across America threatened or endangered species are killed from collisions with blades of the prop wind turbine. This is considered legal because the offending wind farms either hold the "incidental take permit" or were not required to have one because they did not fully disclose environmental impacts of their activities.
Golden Gate Audubon and four other local Audubon chapters sent a letter Jan. 28 to Alameda County demanding that the county ensure that wind turbines operating in the Altamont Pass remain shut down until the county implements a management plan that significantly reduces avian mortality resulting from wind turbine operations in the Altamont.
"Wind turbine operations in the Altamont Pass kill as many as 9,600 birds each year, including many species that are fully protected by state and federal laws," said Mike Lynes, Conservation Director for Golden Gate Audubon.
Two of California's highest priority environmental causes, promoting renewable energy and saving the California condor, are on a collision course. The proliferation of prop wind turbines and their well documented history of killing birds of prey have put the future of California condor at great risk.
The fact is, in recent years many missing Condors have most likely perished at wind farms in California. Many of the captive bed condors, released into the wild since 1992 have turned up missing. Nearly 1/3 of all the captive bred condors released, perish for unknown reasons. If one looks into the scientific literature, collision is nearly always listed as a major cause of death to Condors.
Over the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of similar cases against energy companies. In July, for example, the Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over the past two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines.
Yet there is one group of energy producers that are not being prosecuted for killing birds: wind-power companies. And wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds every year.
Two of California's greatest environmental causes, renewable energy and saving the California condor, are on a collision course.
The explosion of lethal prop-style wind farms being built in condor habitat is putting the hard-won future of the condor at risk.
Many condors undoubtedly perish at such wind farms, although official reports attribute losses to other causes.
Size and cost alone make this project controversial, but it has become even hotter because, so far, it has been handled so poorly by the people who want to build it, the Transmission Agency of Northern California. TANC is a joint powers agency comprised of 15 publicly owned utilities, including the MID and TID. The agency's commission is chaired by MID's general manager, Allen Short.
Not surprisingly, landowners all the way from Lassen and Shasta to Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties are upset -- and angry.
You may not be aware of this but across America each year thousands of birds of prey are killed at wind farms. The public perception of wind turbines is that of slow moving blades turning in the wind on a ridge line. The power and danger of the prop design wind turbine is not well understood. Probably the hardest aspect for the public to grasp is that of "tip speed." The killer of eagles and all birds at wind farms is blade tip speed. This is what kills and this is what the wind industry does not publicize or put in their environmental documents.
The killer of eagles and all birds at wind farms is blade tip speed. ...What is hard to comprehend is that at 20 rotations per minute, the tip speed of the blades for the three turbines works out to 180 mph, 215 mph and 222 miles per hour. The speed and power of these blades is what amputates the wings and heads off flying eagles. From miles away the blades look rather slow, but up close these huge blades move faster than a guillotine.
California desert lands are in some ways a perfect fit with the renewable energy industries necessary to combat climate change. ...But without careful planning and regulation, these "climate solutions" could irrevocably damage the planet they are intended to protect.
The biologically rich but arid desert ecosystems are remarkably fragile. Once topsoil and plant life have been disrupted for the placement of solar arrays, wind farms, power plants, transmission lines and carbon dioxide scrubbers, restoration would be cost-prohibitive, if not technically impossible. And widespread desert construction - even of projects aimed at environmental mitigation - would devastate the very organisms and ecosystems best able to adjust to a warming world.
The biologically rich but arid desert ecosystems are remarkably fragile. Once topsoil and plant life have been disrupted for the placement of solar arrays, wind farms, power plants, transmission lines and CO2 scrubbers, restoration would be cost-prohibitive, if not technically impossible. And widespread desert construction -- even of projects aimed at environmental mitigation -- would devastate the very organisms and ecosystems best able to adjust to a warming world.
Nevertheless, there is a public land rush underway.
This afternoon, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors will have a hearing concerning the Hatchet Ridge Wind project. The board's decision will have a significant impact on birds living in and migrating through the West. The Board of Supervisors has not been given the knowledge to make a proper decision on the project. ...The wind power industry learned a lesson from the astounding number of bird kills at Altamont Pass. Instead of pursuing better wind turbine designs that would limit bird kills, it chose a path of cover-up and lies. Today many wind turbine sites have limited access and workers will lose their jobs if they disclose the truth.
LADWP claims that these transmission lines are necessary to bring renewable energy into the urban city to "diversify their energy portfolio." Development of renewable energy resources including geothermal, solar and wind, should be our highest priority to replace fossil fuels. However, for LADWP to destroy pristine desert and conservation lands in the process, including condemnation of private property, is not a "green" way to go about it. I further disagree that LADWP needs to own its own transmission lines, when there are existing corridors that were established through years of focus and study and could be the shared with other utilities.
Shasta County's decisions regarding the Hatchet Ridge Wind Turbine Project will have a dramatic and permanent effect on the quality of life here in the Intermountain area.
The overriding problem is the proposed location. It's hard to imagine a project site that would have greater visual impact. It is difficult to visualize how enormous these monster turbines would be. Their height of 428 feet is equivalent to a 40-story building. Think of up to 68 Transamerica Pyramids, complete with flashing red lights, sitting on Hatchet Ridge! ...
A new kind of gold rush is going on in the Mojave Desert, according to county Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt. The sought-after objects are sunshine and wind.
More than 100 wind farms and solar-energy installations are proposed, enough to cover 1,300 square miles.
The rush has raised alarms among residents and local officials who fear the stark beauty of the desert could be destroyed.
They need only look as far as Palm Springs to see what their future could look like: rugged mountains and sandy desert floor obscured by a forest of 400-foot tall turbine towers visible from a busy interstate. ...Mitzelfelt and Nassif are concerned that the desert is being asked to bear the brunt of reducing the nation's carbon footprint. ...The San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society finds itself torn on the issue.
It supports renewable energy, having sued the county for failing to have a plan to reduce global warming. But experience has shown that wind turbines kill bats, owls, hawks and other birds by the thousands, said President Drew Feldmann.
"We don't want to destroy the environment to save it," he told the county and BLM in a letter.
Hatchet Ridge Wind is both a vital clean-energy project for California and a dramatic alteration of eastern Shasta County's beautiful landscape.
It is a feel-good environmental project that will help push California toward its goal of producing electricity with fewer fossil fuels.
It is also a massive industrial project that will forever alter one of the prettiest landscapes in the north state. With several dozen towers and turbines reaching up to 418 feet tall, the network would dramatically change the views from the Intermountain area and Highway 299.
It would also, according to the recently released environmental studies, take an unavoidable toll on migrating birds including eagles (yep, them again) and sandhill cranes.
But as the number of turbines grew into the hundreds and then the thousands, concern arose among residents, adjacent landowners and environmental groups.
Wind power can be a viable method of producing electricity, and it is widely considered a clean, safe and reliable source of energy. However, it does have adverse effects in locations such as the San Gorgonio Pass, including the loss of developable land and danger to local wildlife.
Wind-energy companies claim that they only use a fraction of the land, leaving the rest as open space. But in essence, modern wind-energy projects involve massive industrialization of undeveloped land. The newer turbines that have been installed in recent years are large, typically 100 meters (330 feet) tall. Indeed, some developers of future projects are proposing turbines that are 125 meters (410 feet) tall.
Local homeowners and adjacent landowners are the ones immediately affected, and they are now very active in opposing any new wind-energy projects. Other opposing parties are residential developers and the city of Desert Hot Springs. The latter sees a tangible loss of developable land south of Pierson Boulevard, an area the city is considering annexing for future growth.
In addition to the impact wind-energy projects have on land, the structures cause problems in the air as well. The tips of the turbine blades reach speeds of 200 mph to 300 mph, depending on wind speed, which can harm animals.
As a result of studies in other areas, such as Altamont Pass near San Francisco, we know that wind-energy systems cause deaths among many species, particularly raptors, owls and other migratory birds. A major concern for environmental groups, including The Sierra Club, is bird and bat mortality.
It may be the time to consider how wind farms fit in with the values which the Wilderness Society represents. If the Society is prepared to go through such a prolonged and worthy fight to save the forests, with all the financial and emotional costs involved, it would be consistent to regard wind farm development with the same scepticism with which it regards the wood chip industry. Both are potent adversaries to the values which I hope we share.