As migrating shorebirds pass through Northern California, environmentalists hope they don’t meet the same fate as the hundreds of raptors that perish each year at Altamont Pass in Livermore. More than 40 golden eagles, up to 300 red-tailed hawks, up to 270 burrowing owls, and hundreds of other raptors are killed annually by the wind turbines that cover Altamont Pass. On November 13, the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments renewed permits for more than 1,400 turbines on wind farms in the Altamont Wind Resource Area (AWRA). These turbines, plus another 2,400 or so in the Alameda County portion of the AWRA, produce 585 megawatts of nonfossil fuel energy, enough clean energy to power more than 585,000 homes. Unfortunately, the turbines also create a dangerous obstacle course for raptors drawn by the lift-providing winds that blow through the pass and the plentiful prey that thrive in the Livermore hills’ grasslands. According to the Oakland-based Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the majority of the re-permitted turbines at the AWRA are tightly spaced, with blades close to ground level, an arrangement that results in bird kills that violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and several state fish and game codes. A 1999 environmental impact report for the area prevents the zoning board from issuing additional permits that would raise energy production capacity above the 585-megawatt level until the bird kills are reduced. CBD and Californians for Renewable Energy are appealing the permit decision to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, claiming approval of permits without environmental review is illegal. The groups are also requesting that the turbine companies be required to mitigate for ongoing bird kills and implement measures that could significantly reduce the number of kills, such as replacing older turbines with newer, more efficient ones that have slower moving blades. For more information, visit biologicaldiversity.org.
Bay Nature magazine ◦ January-March 2004