California Wind Power Worries Environmentalists

Published October 1, 2006

Under pressure from environmental activist groups such as Defenders of Wildlife and the Los Angeles Audubon Society, the California Energy Commission on August 10 released bird and bat protection guidelines for local wind power permitting agencies.

Although the guidelines are neither mandatory nor enforceable, the move represents growing concern that industrial wind farms are taking an unacceptable toll on bird and bat populations.

The most recent avian mortality studies show between 1,750 and 4,700 birds are killed every year at California’s Altamont Pass wind farm alone. Similar mortality numbers are reported at industrial wind farms in Solano County and other parts of the state.

The Los Angeles Audubon Society says there is a lack of research into how industrial wind farms, many of which are located in migratory flyways, affect songbird flight patterns. The group is seeking a moratorium on turbine operation for several hours each day during the spring and autumn migration seasons.

Full Impact Unknown

Defenders of Wildlife contends any new wind farms should be required to comply with a long list of siting considerations in addition to the guidelines designed to prevent them from being built in roadless forest areas or avian flyways. The group says species other than birds and bats, while not directly killed by the giant blades of wind turbines, may be significantly affected by the turbines.

The group says studies must be conducted to determine how industrial wind farms change the behavior of small mammals and migratory species, for example.

“We are concerned about where wind farms are placed,” said Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “There are some areas that are more sensitive than others. There are also many impacts beyond direct bird and bat deaths, especially along migratory bird routes. Very few studies have been done on potential disruption of [the migration of] songbirds.”

Delfino also noted wind farms often require substantial infrastructure, which destroys still more pristine wilderness.

“Ground-disturbing activities, such as road construction and the clearing of forests for new power lines, also result from wind farm construction,” Delfino said. “We want to make sure that the state maximizes protection for species. We don’t want another Altamont Pass. There are a significant number of wind power projects proposed in California, and the current regulatory system is not set up to deal with all of the attendant environmental impacts.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

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