David Cameron has hinted he would like to cut green subsidies that force up energy bills, after questioning the "sanity" of onshore wind farms.
BERLIN—Spiraling costs in Germany for developing renewable energy sources could damage the country's economic competitiveness and need to be scaled back, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday—without elaborating much on how.
Posted: Jun 10, 2013 5:19 PM EDTUpdated: Jun 10, 2013 6:49 PM EDT
by ABC6 Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis
Applause broke out the Fairhaven Town Hall, after the Board of Health voted to shut down the Fairhaven wind turbines from 7 at night until 7 every morning, effective immediately.
The Health Department received over 400 complaints.
"What people are experiencing is chronic sleeplessness, being woken up in the middle of the night. They are experiencing headaches. What's really, really hard for some of the families is that some of the children are affected" said Louise Barteau, a wind turbine opponent.
The decision brought tears to some who've fought the turbine battle for years.
Dawn Devlin, a wind turbine opponent said, "It's enough for now, so that for the people who are affected, can get some sleep and get healthy again."
ABC6 Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis said, "For now the shutdown of the wind turbines is a temporary solution, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. But if the developer does not find a permanent solution to the noise problems, they could be shut down for good."
The developers of Fairhaven Wind - which operates the turbines – attended the meeting, but declined our request for an interview.
In a surprise move the Board of Selectmen voted that Fairhaven Wind had breached its lease because of noise violations, and it has 30 days to fix them.
Dr. Barbara Acksen, from the Fairhaven Board of Health said, "We had been told that if the DEP found that the turbines were in non-compliance, that they would direct the Select Board to shut them down, and I was very surprised that they didn't."
Testing showed that the wind turbines were too loud, especially at night.
Dear Mr Prescott and Mass. Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary,
We have yet to receive a reply from the numerous emails providing you with real world impact of Wind Turbines, micro, small, medium and large as they all operate in the same fashion. High speed blades in open nature killing more flying animals than researchers guess at. We have seen where you attempt to explain a 40 ft blade as micro, suggesting that somehow that will prevent bat and bird deaths. Or that somehow having no peer reviewed studies about small/medium wind turbine deaths means they won’t kill. Or worse, some say other things kill more so wind turbine aren’t as bad, which is like saying I murder just one so the mass murderer makes me ok. You talk about sound and we provide numerous death counts. Researching the history of WBWS, it was interesting to learn that area was specially selected to research birds even before the WBWS as it had an almost unique spectrum of birds and habitat. I saw where Cape Cod is seeing the return of Bald Eagles. So the poignant official report below will let you realize that as a leader of the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary you would rather not have to explain why dead animals keep appearing or why someone or something is injured by mechanical debris of a large machine a hundred feet in the air at your public facility for nature. Please stop the wind turbine now to prevent this big mistake. I hope you can admit we aren’t making up the facts we are sending you and they very much apply to what you are doing. There is no magical solution to installing spinning blade at Wildlife Refuge that will prevent numerous deaths, like the one the report below shows. That Wildlife Refuge had to admit reality and has removed the “micro” wind turbine. Save the Sanctuary a lot of money from well-meaning donors and ill-will by not attempting to build this large machine and put it towards land acquisition, bird studies, something good, or CO2 lowering efficiency technologies at your building. Do you think the Maryland Refuge situation is so different from yours?
You have been told the turbine is small, low, only 10kw and those don’t kill. The following should disabuse you of these UNTURTHS. People are given medicine because it is proven safe….has your manufacturer proven this medicine is safe? Because we see lots of patients dying! We are not suggesting that you can’t make meaningful reductions in your energy usage to lower your carbon emission….we are just telling you that Wind Turbines harm wildlife and in larger numbers than your advisers, consultants, friends, colleagues, associates, manufactures, lobbyists will admit. Please don’t be so enamored with wind energy to allow it in your Wildlife Sanctuary. Remember killing Eagles is a Federal Crime that one day may be prosecuted and now you can’t say you haven’t been warned that killing an Eagle is possible.
Eagle’s Cause of Death Confirmed at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed that a dead bald eagle found below a small 10-kilowatt
wind turbine on Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Rock Hall, Md., was killed by blunt force trauma.
Refuge staff found the adult male eagle and sent it to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease
Study in Athens, Ga., to establish the specific cause of death. The Service received the necropsy report
from the Georgia facility the afternoon of June 19, 2012.
As smart renewable energy is important to the Service, the refuge installed a single, 60-foot-tall wind
turbine in 2002 to provide an alternative source of energy for its facilities. In addition, the refuge has
installed a 5-kilowatt solar array that provides power to an administrative building. A contractor hired by
the Service conducted a 3.5-year study after the turbine’s installation, which indicated a mortality rate
averaging less than three native birds a year and no effects to eagles.
In Maryland, the bald eagle population has increased from 44 nesting pairs in 1977 to now more than 500
pairs. A very dense population of bald eagles lives in the refuge area, with about eight nesting territories
this year. An American success story, the eagle’s remarkable recovery led to its removal from the federal
list of threatened and endangered species in 2007.
However, bald eagles remain protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Service
continues to encourage wind project developers to coordinate early to help minimize risks to birds and is
finalizing guidance for eagle conservation plans to address potential impacts. The Service has treated the
incident at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge as it would any similar incident at a non-federal wind
Due to hurricane damage and the lack of power being generated by the turbine, the refuge has removed
the turbine and blades, leaving only the tower. The refuge is re-evaluating the long term viability of this
wind energy project to consider additional factors, such as newer technology, vertical wind turbines, tower
height and location.
Media: Meagan Racey, 413-253-8558, Meagan_racey@fws.gov
Wind projects and eagles: Sarah Nystrom, 413-253-8592, firstname.lastname@example.org
Refuge and alternative energy project: Suzanne Baird, 410-228-2692 ext 101, Suzanne_baird@fws.gov
KEEP IT A SANCTUARY
Save Our Sea Shore
The leadership of Wellfleet Bay Wildlife "Sanctuary" seem to wish to convert the mission of the Sanctuary from wildlife and habitat protection area to Electrical Generation facility area...renewable...but never the less a production facility. It is appalling that a WILDLIFE SANCTUARY has had their mission perverted in to a space hogging, wildlife killing, technology center!!!
The leadership has lost their way. There are so few wildlife sanctuaries and the appeal of these vanity projects is apparently too much for these "care takers". They love the money and attention gleaned with these industrial, nature killing machines! They go to the lobbyists funded conferences telling about all the good that will come from placing these machines in a natural environment. There are the state/federal funded research better known as guessing, as to the harm that will be wreaked. Invariably the "guessers" are regularly wrong, though they get paid to make sure most projects are "viable" and thereby self perpetuating(money in their pockets). Check this research out http://saveourseashore.org/?p=2709 "
Although we predicted abundance would remain relatively constant, raptor abundance was lower post-construction compared to pre-construction levels.""
THIS HAS TO BE STOPPED!
Remember electricity can be generated anywhere and transported. Money can be spend on harmless projects that dramatically lowering usage of electricity...but the vanity of these projects just aren't as appealing as 100-200 ft industrial machine in the middle of a WILDLIFE SANCTUARY!
Instead of spending money to acquire more land to in the wonderful true mission of ab Audubon Sanctuary's which is to protect a piece of nature they now spend money on newer buildings, newer larger more harmful power generation machinery! Why exactly does an Audubon center need air conditioning....most people that live nearby don't have it? Why not convert more facilities to open environment and remove the video screen for that simple thing people are really looking for....THE SANCTUARY OF NATURE!
The current industrial wind project being attempted at the Wellfleet Bay "WILDLIFE SANCTUARY"....please note they call it a micro turbine...is only 150ft tall with 40ft blades that will kill birds and bats!
Their first attempt at an even larger wind turbines project in 2008 met with failure as reasonable heads prevailed and shot that project down.
Here is some information about the solar production facility at the Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary as more doesn't even seem to be enough.
"Now we’d like to complete the installation of a new 41 kilowatt photovoltaic solar array that, combined with our existing solar array...". Please take note in the following pictures that they take land from the nature to build their production facility. Also called BULLDOZING!!! Note that solar panels raise the temperature of the local environment as welll a fine thing for a "Sanctuary".
Note in the picture above more greenery could have supported butterflies, bees, birds, insects....but alas the Wildlife Sanctuary chooses glass, aluminum, silicon, and higher temperatures, They have chosen an Energy Production Mission over Wildlife and Nature mission.
Please go back an investigate the original mission of the Sanctuary, what does the charter say? It might be time for better leadership!
KEEP IT A SANCTUARY!
Call this the bat effect: A bat killed by a wind turbine in Somerset can lead to higher tomato prices at the Wichita farmers market.
Bats are something of a one-species stimulus program for farmers, every year gobbling up millions of bugs that could ruin a harvest. But the same biology that allows the winged creatures to sweep the night sky for fine dining also has made them susceptible to one of Pennsylvania's fastest-growing energy tools.
The 420 wind turbines now in use across Pennsylvania killed more than 10,000 bats last year -- mostly in the late summer months, according to the state Game Commission. That's an average of 25 bats per turbine per year, and the Nature Conservancy predicts as many as 2,900 turbines will be set up across the state by 2030.
This is a bad time to be a bat.
It may seem like a good thing to those who fear the flying mammals, but the wind farm mortality rate is an acute example of how harnessing natural energy can lead to disruptions in the circle of life -- and the cycle of business. This chain of events mixes biology and economics: Bat populations go down, bug populations go up and farmers are left with the bill for more pesticide and crops (which accounts for those pricey tomatoes in Kansas).
Wind industry executives are shelling out millions of dollars on possible solutions that don't ruin their bottom line, even as wind farms in the area are collaborating with the state Game Commission to work carcass-combing into daily operations.
"If you look at a map and see where the mountains are, everything funnels through Somerset," said Tracey Librandi Mumma, the wildlife biologist who led the March commission report on bird and bat mortality. "If I'm out driving ... I wonder, 'How many are being killed at that one?' "
Bats are nature's pesticide, consuming as many as 500 insects in one hour, or nearly 3,000 insects in one night, said Miguel Saviroff, the agricultural financial manager at the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Somerset County.
"A colony of just 100 little brown bats may consume a quarter of a million mosquitoes and other small insects in a night," he said. "That benefits neighbors and reduces the insect problem with crops."
If one turbine kills 25 bats in a year, that means one turbine accounted for about 17 million uneaten bugs in 2010.
Bats save farmers a lot of money: About $74 per acre, according to an April report in Science magazine that calculated the economic value of bats on a county-by-county basis.
In Allegheny County, bats save farmers an estimated $642,986 in a year. That's nothing compared with more agricultural counties in the region such as Somerset ($6.7 million saved), Washington ($5.5 million) or Westmoreland ($6.1 million).
Lancaster County? You owe bats $22 million.
In all of Pennsylvania, bats saved farmers $277.9 million in estimated avoided costs.
Initially, the "Economic Importance of Bats in Agriculture" article was meant to attract attention to the white-nose fungus virus that is wiping out entire colonies of bats across the country.
"We were getting a lot of questions about why we should care about white-nose syndrome," said author Justin Boyles, a post-doctoral fellow in bat research at the University of Tennessee. "Really, it's the economic impact that makes people listen."
The white-nose syndrome is compounding the wind turbine problems, having killed more than a million bats in the northeastern United States since 2006. It surfaced in Pennsylvania in 2008 and has killed thousands of in-state bats.
Meanwhile, the same creatures that save Pennsylvania farmers millions of dollars each year are also costing energy companies some big bucks as they try to stave off a mass execution beneath the blades.
Technology is being developed on sound generators that would deter the creatures from getting too close with a high-pitched noise only heard by bats. Some studies suggest that a slowdown in blade speed would reduce mortality.
But new technology is expensive and a blade slowdown would reduce the number of megawatts produced.
"All these options cost money," said Ms. Librandi Mumma, and it can be a tough sell to the private industry handing over the information that helps in the research. "You don't want to penalize the hand that's giving you the data."
Companies that have signed a Game Commission cooperation agreement must foot the bill for the commission's pre-construction reconnaissance and post-construction monitoring. The cost of the process varies, but the research can last several months and involve extensive habitat monitoring.
Under the agreement, each site conducts two years of mortality monitoring, sending a lucky employee out every day from April to November to comb the six meters around each turbine for carcasses. The employees are tested to see "how good they are at finding dead things," said Ms. Librandi Mumma.
"We got a dead snake once, because it was on the road and they were just collecting everything dead," she said. "It wasn't because the wind turbine killed it. The guy was just being thorough."
Some retrievers aren't so good.
"The average person finds 30 percent of the carcasses that are under a turbine," said Ms. Librandi Mumma, so the commission has come up with an algorithm that accounts for the missing bodies.
Agents will leave a carcass on the ground and note how long it takes to disappear -- this provides some insight on how many carcasses are unaccounted for because of living animals that have a taste for decomposing flesh.
Some wind companies with Pennsylvania operations have already seen seven-figure expenses on account of the bat problem.
NextEra Energy Resources, which operates the Somerset wind farms visible from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, has five active sites in Pennsylvania but did not participate in the Game Commission study.
The company monitors its mortality rates in house and funds outside research to reduce bird and bat deaths at its sites, said Skelly Holmbeck, environmental business manager at the Juno Beach, Fla.-based firm.
The funding program involving nine different research facilities is "in the millions overall," she said.
Migratory research that precedes any construction can employ bird watchers, nets or tape recorders designed to read the local ecosystem.
PPL Renewable Energy LLC of Allentown had planned on installing four turbines at its Lancaster County wind farm, but went with only two after sensitive avian populations were found nearby.
"There were design aspects that we elected not to use," said spokeswoman Mimi Mylin. "Some construction sites use lattice towers, but those can become roosting sites" for birds.
It's not just bats that are dying around wind turbines. An estimated 1,680 birds were killed by turbines last year, according to the state Game Commission report.
The disparity in mortality stems from biology. Birds typically crash into the blade and die from blunt force trauma, while bats suffer from a condition called barotrauma. It's the bat equivalent of the "bends" that scuba divers can suffer if they surface too quickly.
The rapid drop in air pressure around the blades causes the bats' lungs to burst, and they collapse with no ostensible lacerations or scars on the body.
"They just look like they're sleeping," said Ms. Librandi Mumma.
Bats must fly very close to the blades for their lungs to burst, and some researchers say the lights around the turbines might attract insects, which in turn attract bats.
Barotrauma in bats was only discovered in 2008, when a Canadian biologist thought to dissect one of the unblemished carcasses turning up at wind farms across North America.
"It was an 'a-ha' moment," said Ms. Librandi Mumma.
The turbine problem has yielded some other, unexpected contributions to bat research.
One carcass hunter in central Pennsylvania found a Seminole bat felled by barotrauma under the blades. Seminole bats live in the southeastern United States and rarely show up in Pennsylvania.
"It's like a double-edged sword," said Ms. Librandi Mumma. "You're excited because it's a new bat, but it's a dead one."
The Seminole specimen was kept on dry ice in a small styrofoam container by a commission employee and handed over to Suzanne McLaren, the collection manager at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's research center in East Liberty. They met in the Ligonier Diamond town square -- home to a postcard-perfect gazebo and lots of sunlight -- for the transfer.
The bat, which may have traveled here from as far as Florida, found its final resting place in a freezer in East Liberty.
A letter to:
Dear Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary,
I would like to draw your attention to some research concerning raptors and wind turbines and why you should not choose a wind turbine for the Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. We are sure some of you think this is a broken record….but we wish to convince you with HARD FACT that wind turbines have a dramatic impact on wildlife and that the wind turbine lobby has been successful so far in soft pedaling the dramatic impact.
"Overall raptor abundance was on average 47% lower post-construction"
"Although we predicted abundance would remain relatively constant, raptor abundance was lower post-construction compared to pre-construction levels."
This from A pre- and post-construction study conducted to determine the impact of a windfarm on the abundance and behaviour of raptors in Wisconsin, USA.
Garvin, J. C., Jennelle, C. S., Drake, D. and Grodsky, S. M. (2011), Response of raptors to a windfarm. Journal of Applied Ecology, 48: 199–209. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01912.x
Once again the prediction that wind turbines won’t have an effect on animals and once again animals are impacted. A Wind Turbine is an extremely poor choice to have at the Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Please, we ask you to send us any data you have on Wind Turbines not impacting animals…beyond anecdotal …I visited a turbine and it didn't look that bad…or someone I know has one and he says is isn’t bad or we didn’t look for any dead animals so we didn’t find any. The evidence of 50% avoidance is horrific for an Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.
KEEP IT A WILDLIFE SANCTUARY!
FAIRHAVEN — Fairhaven's two industrial-sized wind turbines are in violation of Massachusetts noise regulations, according to preliminary results of a sound study conducted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The announcement at a meeting Tuesday night prompted opponents to demand the turbines be shut down.
DEP Deputy Commissioner Martin Suuberg told the Board of Health that noise from the turbines exceeded state regulations in five of the 24 periods during which the DEP conducted testing.
DEP started its sound study in August to determine whether the turbines were more than 10 decibels louder than ambient noise at homes of residents who had complained about the turbine noise.
Five different locations were tested overall but the five periods of noncompliance came from only single locations on Little Bay Road, Peirces' Point Road and Teal Circle.
Winds were blowing from the northwest and northeast, at varying speeds, when the turbines were found to be exceeding noise regulations by differences of .7 to 1.5 decibels, according to DEP data presented Tuesday night.
The DEP still needs to collect more noise samples at varying wind speeds before the test is complete, but Suuberg said the state agency would work with the town and developers to "mitigate the problem."
Developer Gordon Dean said he disputed some of the methodology used in the DEP's study but agreed to work with the town and DEP to "see what might be done in a cost-effective manner."
He said he hoped a solution could be found before winter, when many of the violations were found.
That response was not good enough for the more than 30 members of the turbine opposition group Windwise who were in attendance and cheered and booed various speakers throughout the meeting.
At one point, many in the audience began shouting for Board of Health Chairman Peter DeTerra to make a motion to shut down the wind turbines until Fairhaven Wind presented the board with a mitigation plan.
"Until you find a way to fix this, it's only fair to shut them down," Grant Menard said.
Lisa Plante agreed, saying "the burden of proof is on the developers to prove they can be in compliance."
Planning Board Chairman Wayne Hayward warned the Board of Health against taking any action "without the advice of counsel," saying "don't allow yourself to be pressured by the 35 people here."
His comments were met with boos and yells from Windwise members.
DeTerra said he would wait to make a decision until the Board of Health could meet with selectmen and town counsel.
SOSS Editor Note - Sadly Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary once again is pushing to use wildlife killing wind energy. The previous larger project was killed, but now there is attempt at a smaller version which will still kill local wildlife without even admitting the first effort was wrong headed. We find it unseemly and irresponsible that current management of the wildlife sanctuary built by many, with donation from many, to protect the environment and wildlife..would turn to wind energy which 100% guaranteed to kill wildlife. Pretty much every wind energy project makes lowball estimates of how many animals will killed and find the actual harm is MANY FOLD WORSE! This is SHAMEFUL. A number of wildlife entities have erected wind turbines finding they have to be removed once they have to deal with the ugly reality that wind energy kills. If this gets built, will they even have the integrity remove it when the the killing begins? We all know for a fact much more could be accomplished with impactless projects such as high efficiency equipment, smart architecting and materials than erecting a wind energy machine at a WILDLIFE SANCTUARY. A simple exercise should be what could be changed to remove one light bulb, A/C, heater or computer. Wonder how much industrial noise this machine will be introducing to the sanctuary?
Gull killer micro turbines are removed in Devon, England The 15m (50ft) high 6kW turbines at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth were installed in 2006 for a £3.6m sustainable energies project. But the Hoe-based attraction has taken them down after several birds died, it said. The aquarium also said they had not produced as much electricity as hoped.
http://www.dailytech.com/Study+Wind+Farms++Bird+Killers/article18641.htm “…30 raptors were killed "during an initial year of operations - more than seven times the number forecast in a pre-construction study.”
What is the current management's forecast for how many deaths they will be responsible for and how much energy they can guarantee. I think they need to make a public forecast.
Wellfleet Bay Audubon proposes a Micro-Wind Turbine
Read more: Wellfleet Bay Audubon proposes a Micro-Wind Turbine - - Wicked Local Wellfleet http://www.wickedlocal.com/wellfleet/news/x1379222368/Wellfleet-Bay-Audubon-proposes-a-Micro-Wind-Turbine#ixzz2TrVyIjzT
micro-wind turbine near existing solar panel arrays adjacent to the sanctuary’s parking lot.
The wildlife sanctuary in South Wellfleet is hosting a community open house Thursday, May 23 from 5–7 PM to provide more information about the project, including images of the proposed turbine and to answer questions.
The proposed 120-foot, two-bladed turbine is an example of micro-wind technology as categorized by government and industry and is not comparable to the much larger industrial-sized turbines erected in other areas of the Cape. Its modest scale has been designed to generate only enough power for the sanctuary to return to the regional grid as much power as it uses and has been sited to minimize visual and other impacts, both on and off the sanctuary.
Sanctuary director Bob Prescott said adding wind power to the sanctuary’s green energy mix is a logical next step following the installation of solar panels at the sanctuary in 2006 and 2011 and the 2008 construction of the award-winning LEED Platinum-certified nature center, an energy-efficient building incorporating recycled materials.
“This proposal dovetails with Mass Audubon’s organization-wide commitment to demonstrate affordable, practical ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint and help to offset emissions contributing to climate change,” Prescott noted. “We also anticipate using the turbine as part of our education programs and to further engage the greater community to which we belong.”
The turbine will require approval by Wellfleet’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Mass Audubon will also conduct environmental studies to ensure the turbine will not have adverse impacts. If approved, the turbine would be constructed in the off-season to minimize impact on visitors and wildlife.
“We hope people will join us for what I expect to be an informative and productive session,” Prescott said.
In a reversal that has outraged environmentalists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it will not penalize a Southern California wind operator if its turbines kill or injure one California condor. One of the world's most critically endangered animals with fewer than 250 birds in the wild, the condor's range in the Tehachapi Mountains is being encroached on by intensive wind turbine development.
FWS biologist Ray Bransfield told ReWire that FWS has completed its Biological Opinion (BiOp) on condors for Google and Citicorp's Alta East project, which would be built and operated by wind developer Terra-Gen. Occupying 2,592 acres, mostly on public lands, near the intersection of state routes 14 and 58 in Kern County, Alta East would generate a maximum of 318 megawatts of electrical power with 106 wind turbines, each with 190-foot-long blades.
FWS's BiOp for Alta East includes an "incidental take statement" that in effect allows one "lethal take" of a California condor. "Incidental take" of a protected species is a term of art covering any kind of injury, harassment or disturbance, or even habitat damage that a project causes inadvertently. "Lethal take" is when the species in question dies. If the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approves the project, FWS would require formal re-review of the project's impact on condors if a single condor is killed over the 30-year operating life of the facility.
According to FWS, other wind developers are welcome to apply for similar permits. "This is the first time we've authorized incidental takes of California condors -- and we're approaching them very cautiously," said FWS Director Dan Ashe in an interview with Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times.
According to FWS press spokesperson Stephanie Weagley, the BiOp was issued approximately a week ago and delivered to the BLM, which is in the process of determining whether to approve Alta East. Standard practice dictates that BiOps for a project are made public when the lead agency -- the BLM, in this case -- issues a Record Of Decision on the project. Attempts by ReWire to obtain an advance copy of the Alta East condor BiOp have so far been unsuccessful.
Condors are especially threatened by the new generation of wind turbines because they fly slowly, their 9-foot wingspans making them somewhat slow to maneuver. They tend to soar while watching the ground, searching for activity of other scavengers. This habit makes them vulnerable to injury from blade tips approaching from above, often at speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour.
Alta East has come under heavy scrutiny for its threat to condors in the east Tehachapis. It's far from the only wind facility that poses such a threat: the area has seen startling growth in wind installations in the last four years, many of those installations every bit as much a threat to California's largest bird. According to Bransfield, the Alta East facility is the first to come up for incidental take consideration because it occupies BLM land. Asked in email whether this pending incidental take permit offered a precedent for neighboring facilities, Bransfield told ReWire:
Our biological opinion (and the incidental take statement included in the biological opinion) are specific to this project. We would need to evaluate any future projects on their own merits; therefore, I do not have an answer to that question. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that numerous wind projects are already in operation in this area; none of them applied for an incidental take permit from the Service; also, none of them are on Federal land, so this is the first to undergo consultation.
Of the 132 free-flying condors in California as of March 2013, nearly half -- 65 birds -- live in the Tehachapis, well within an easy day's flight of the burgeoning wind developments in the vicinity of Alta East. And according to telemetry from the transmitters worn by many of the birds, they're moving right up against the Tehachapi Wind Energy Area -- and in many cases flying across it.
The revelation of the pending take permit caught many wildlife protection activists by surprise, and several told ReWire that it was difficult to offer a measured response on behalf of their organizations without access to the text of the BiOp. But the reaction of Center for Biological Diversity attorney Adam Keats quoted in Friday's Times article aptly summarized most of the sentiment ReWire found among activists: "This is a sad day for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," Keats told the Times. "We're talking about perhaps one of the most endangered species on the planet, let alone in this country."
"It's premature and inappropriate," said condor expert Sophie Osborn, wildlife program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council and author of "Condors in Canyon Country: The Return of the California Condor to the Grand Canyon Region." Osborn, who managed the Peregrine Fund's involvement with the Grand Canyon condor reintroduction for many years, told ReWire that the incidental take permit flies in the face of what we know about how to help birds survive wind energy development. "Proper siting means finding out which areas pose less threat to birds. It means not putting turbines in high use areas, not allowing development in places that have heavy wildlife traffic."
"This just seems like a recipe for losing condors," she added.
Osborn also took issue with a statement by Dan Ashe quoted in Louis Sahagun's Los Angeles Times piece, in which the FWS chief said "The good news is that we have an expanding population of condors, which are also expanding their range."
"The reason we have an expanding population is that we're breeding and releasing condors," said Osborn. "That doesn't offer an accurate picture of how they're doing once they're released."
If a condor is killed at Alta East during that 30-year period, the BLM will have to do what's known in the endangered species business as "reinitiating formal consultation" -- essentially restarting the process by which FWS determines whether a project will jeopardize the existence of an endangered species.
That's a reassuring-sounding prospect: FWS will assess whether a project that has killed an endangered animal poses further threat to the species. The process is often less reassuring in practice than it is in theory. Endangered species advocates were hoping for a "jeopardy" finding when solar developer BrightSource started finding hundreds more federally threatened desert tortoises on the site of its Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System than were forecast in that project's BiOp. The original BiOp and take permit allowed BrightSource to kill, harm, harass, or disturb no more than 40 tortoises. Once it was clear there were a lot more tortoises than that onsite, BLM estimated as many as 2,862 tortoises (including eggs) could be harmed by the project. Despite the 70-fold increase in potential "takes," FWS merely required a few changes to the project's tortoise relocation plan and issued a revised BiOp that allowed construction to proceed.
Reviewing a project's impact on condors after a single death may seem fairly stringent by comparison to the Ivanpah tortoise example, but compared to a year in prison and a fine of $100,000 -- the existing penalties under the Endangered Species Act for killing a condor -- it's definitely getting off easy. And the number of remaining tortoises in the Ivanpah Valley, as beleaguered as they are, is many times higher than the entire population of California condors worldwide.
This is an abrupt about-face for FWS, whose representatives were stating as recently as last year that issuing lethal take permits for the California condor to wind developers -- or anyone -- was out of the question. In a 2011 letter regarding Alta East sent to Jacqueline Kitchen of the Kern County Planning and Community Development Department -- and included as a public comment in the project's Final Environmental Impact Statement -- FWS's Assistant Field Supervisor Carl Benz said that "we consider avoidance of mortality of California condors to be the only acceptable conservation strategy at this point in time." That was the same point in time in which FWS was rebuking Kern County for downplaying the existence of condors on the site of a different proposed wind project. In a letter to the county's Board of Supervisors, Diane Noda -- Field Supervisor of the FWS Ventura office -- warned the county that careless approval of enXco's 350-megawatt Catalina wind project could land the county in hot water with regard to illegal take of condors, adding "We cannot envision a situation where we would permit the lethal take of California condors."
The decision also marks a change from policy stated recently in the behemoth Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), an overarching Habitat Conservation Plan in the works for the California Desert, being prepared by FWS in cooperation with the California Energy Commission (CEC), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). As recently as this past January, this is what the DRECP's planning documents had to say about the idea that wind developers would be granted permission to "take" condors:
Based on best available information for the California condor, it is anticipated that no lethal take would be authorized for condor, but that the DRECP would promote conservation of the species.
So what prompted this volte-face on FWS's part? It's hard to tell without looking at the Biological Opinion, which has not so far been made publicly accessible. Stephanie Weagley told ReWire that a commitment by Terra-Gen to implement a condor warning system played a role in FWS writing the first-ever incidental take statement for California condors.
"These measures include... a system to detect condors flying in the vicinity of the project [and] curtailment of operation prior to any bird entering the area of the wind turbines," Weagley told ReWire.
What this likely means, given the flaws inherent in standard detection tech such as bird radar, is that Terra-Gen has agreed to use a system that will detect the radio transmitters worn by many condors and slow their turbines when the alarm signals the birds' approach.
Those transmitters are worn by many condors. They are not worn by every condor. A double-digit percentage of condors in California may be without transmitters, and those with them may stop signaling due to equipment failure. "Transmitters often have failed batteries," Sophie Osborn points out. "They fall off. It's a hell of a lot of work to capture condors to attach new transmitters, especially if the condors in question aren't habituated to food subsidies. It can take weeks or months to recapture a condor whose transmitter has failed, or to capture a fledgling that's never had one attached. It takes a big commitment of people on the ground to do the work."
Condors' social behavior may offer some level of "herd immunity" to windmill strikes in that radio-silent condors will often be accompanying those with transmitters. But that's not by any means a certainty. Eventually, Terra-Gen will have to find some other way of detecting condors, and no reliable way other than constant live observation really exists.
FWS's Stephanie Weagley points out that this reality is in part what drove the Alta East BiOp's findings. "Because the detection system is not fool-proof," said Weagley, "the Service's biological opinion on the proposed action anticipates the lethal take of a single condor over the 30 year life of the project."
If condors do move into the area in increasing numbers, that poses another problem with mitigation through detection. Wind turbine operators are in business to sell power. If they're obliged to cut their output drastically every time a condor flies by, and if condors start flying by more than a few days a year, that cuts into profits, and into investors' income, and into the creditworthiness of the operator. The temptation to err on the side of threat to condors will grow with the local condor population.
And that threat may involve a single condor only rarely. Condors are intensely social animals -- one biologist has called them "primates with feathers." The birds tend to gather in huge flocks at a carcass, and they can assemble those huge flocks quickly, as shown in these camera trap images caught just a few moments apart:
It may turn out to be hard to kill only one California condor by accident.
A more likely broad cause of the FWS reversal on condors is overarching pressure from the Obama administration to develop renewable energy generating capacity at all costs, even going so far as to help conceal the deaths of protected and endangered bird species at wind installations. Dan Ashe, according to the Times, pointed out that the condor issue had been a thorn in the side of wind developers in the Tehachapis:
Fish and Wildlife Director Daniel Ashe said the decision reflects a difficult reality. The threat of prosecution jeopardized the construction of large-scale alternative energy facilities... in the wild and windy places preferred by condors.
Which observation prompted one commenter on social media to point out in exasperated all-caps: "YES THAT IS WHAT IT IS SUPPOSED TO DO."