Articles filed under Impact on Wildlife from California
On a strip of California's Mojave Desert, two dozen rare tortoises could stand in the way of a sprawling solar-energy complex in a case that highlights mounting tensions between wilderness conservation and the nation's quest for cleaner power. Oakland, Calif.-based BrightSource Energy has been pushing for more than two years for permission to erect 400,000 mirrors on the site to gather the sun's energy. It could become the first project of its kind on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property.
The projects will help the nation and California meet renewable-energy goals, but they also raise new concerns about ruining scenic views and damaging habitat needed by species such as the desert tortoise, which has been creeping toward extinction. The Obama administration has selected three large-scale wind developments for a shortened approval process, part of an effort to advance alternative energy and reduce green-house emissions that experts say contribute to global warming. The energy companies hope to win BLM approval by Dec. 1, 2010.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the beginning of a process to develop a plan to reduce harm to endangered birds by a Humboldt County wind power project. The agency is asking the public to weigh in on how birds, especially marbled murrelets and northern spotted owls, might be affected by the turbines and other elements of the project on Bear River Ridge outside Ferndale.
A remote corner of East County is shaping up as a battleground between companies pushing wind farms as clean and cheap power generators and activists who view them as a blight on the landscape. It has put environmentalists in the position of opposing renewable energy because, they say, it's in the wrong place. Drawing the most attention is a plan by the Spanish conglomerate Iberdrola to build about 100 skyscraper-sized towers in and near the McCain Valley, a federal conservation area abutting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
The Altamont is the world's oldest wind farm with some 5,000 power-generating turbines covering 50 square miles on the Alameda County border. While generating good green power for the state, it has a bad reputation for killing birds. The wind turbines on the gusty Altamont Pass were installed after the energy crisis in the 1970s. Today, the world's oldest wind farm powers an average of 100,000 homes with clean green energy. But environmentalists say it comes at a steep price.
The dirty little secret about the windmill farm at Altamont Pass is that it slaughters thousands of birds every year while politicians turn a blind eye. Four years ago, environmental groups filed suit after the Alameda County Board of Supervisors effectively allowed the farm's several owners to keep killing birds despite evidence that the deaths could be greatly lessened.
The thousand of birds killed by the wind turbines at Altamont Pass tainted the reputation of the renewable energy source. But according to a recent report by the Ventana Wildlife Society and the Stanford Solar and Wind Energy Project, smaller wind-power projects may be able to harvest energy in some parts of Monterey County without harming the endangered California condor. "The condor is the main thing that's been holding up the development of wind-power projects in Monterey County," said John Roitz.
The proposed construction of massive wind and solar energy projects on public land in the California desert would hasten destruction and further fragment land that is home to 17% of state's rarest plants, botanists said Saturday. "Most of the solar and wind projects currently under review are in the wrong places," said Greg Suba, conservation program director for the California Native Plant Society.
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.
Soledad wants to build a seven-turbine wind farm to power its wastewater treatment plant. Sounds simple enough only the few remaining California condors frequently fly over the city and the Department of Fish and Game doesn't want to take the chance for one endangered bird to be pureed. "Even though it's a relatively low risk," says David Hacker, staff environmental scientist for DFG, "it's still a risk and any risk can be significant for this species."
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.
A "wind farm" that would take advantage of the gusts that have been blowing through the Central Coast at 30 to 50 mph is moving right along despite a lawsuit filed against the county's approval of the project. Construction won't begin for at least a year, but in the meantime officials of the developer say they are working to meet all the requirements imposed by the county with the intention of protecting the environment surrounding the "clean energy" project.
To his chagrin, some of Mr. Myers's fellow environmentalists are helping power companies pinpoint the best sites for solar-power technology. The goal of his former allies is to combat climate change by harnessing the desert's solar-rich terrain, reducing the region's reliance on carbon-emitting fuels. Mr. Myers is indignant. "How can you say you're going to blade off hundreds of thousands of acres of earth to preserve the Earth?" he said. As the Obama administration puts development of geothermal, wind and solar power on a fast track, the environmental movement finds itself torn between fighting climate change and a passion for saving special places.
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.
Wildlife researcher Jim Wiegand says "Green energy is a cover up and a lie because birds of prey are getting killed, people wouldn't believe how these turbines chop them up." Many members of the Pit River Tribe were among the protestors outside the Shasta County Administration Center touting the deadly effects wind turbines have on birds, particularly bald eagles.
Saying its blades will leave eagle blood in the air and on the ground, opponents of the Hatchet Ridge Wind Project are planning a protest rally. "It just really needs to be relooked at," said Radley Davis, a member of the Pit River Tribe and one of the protest organizers. The protest will be at noon Friday in front of the Shasta County Administration Center, organizers said.
Miller, who is president of Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, told the attendees that Los Angeles citizens are opposing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's Green Path project, especially as it could be a threat to Joshua Tree National Park. One plan to foil the energy path is to legally declare Big Morongo Canyon Preserve as a protected wilderness attached to Joshua Tree National Park, where no power lines are allowed. That would disrupt the contiguous transmission towers in one Green Path North alternative proposed by the Los Angeles power company.