Golden Eagles’ Survival Threatened by California Wind Turbines

Published August 1, 2011

The golden eagle population in California’s Alameda County is facing unsustainable pressure from industrial wind turbines in Altamont Pass, state officials report. The news is particularly troubling to conservationists because Alameda County contains the highest density of nesting golden eagles in the world.

Breeding Can’t Keep Up
California officials report an average of 67 golden eagles die each year at the Altamont Pass wind farm.

“It would take 167 pairs of local nesting golden eagles to produce enough young to compensate for their mortality rate related to wind energy production,” Doug Bell, manager of East Bay Regional Park District’s wildlife program, told the Los Angeles Times. “We have only 60 pairs.”

Thousands of Other Birds Killed
Biologists report turbines at the Altamont Pass wind farm also kill more than 2,000 raptors, along with thousands of smaller birds and bats each year.

Nationally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports wind turbines kill 444,000 birds each year.

Government Policy to Blame
Conservationists fear legislation recently signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), which will require state residents to purchase a third of their electricity from alternative sources such as wind power, will add to the death toll.

“The government crusade for wind power with massive subsidies and other privileges is unsustainable and pointless,” says David Theroux, president of the Oakland, California-based Independent Institute.

“If wind power is viable economically, it will be pursued through normal energy markets so long as they are left free to do so,” Theroux added. “As a result, there is absolutely no need for corporate welfare projects of massive fields of wind turbines killing golden eagles and thousands of other birds. None of this can be defended environmentally or economically.”

Double Standard Applies
Tom Tanton, former principal advisor at the California Energy Commission (CEC), says the rampant killing of golden eagles and other birds does not have to happen.

“When those of us at the CEC first noticed the high avian mortality rates, back in the 1980s, I naively thought we’d do something to actually protect the birds. Remember, these are listed, threatened, and endangered species, and not just the iconic Golden Eagle,” Tanton said. “In fact, several large power plants, with merely the potential to harm threatened species, were denied applications by the CEC. Of course, those were ‘conventional’ sources.

“The experience taught me that, as often as not, government is about playing favorites and not about achieving objective goals,” Tanton added.

D. Brady Nelson ([email protected]) is a Milwaukee-based economist.