Scientists Recommend Stronger Action to Decrease Bird Kills

Published March 1, 2008

After years of trying to get wind farm operators to act voluntarily to reduce bird deaths at the Altamont Pass, California wind farm, environmental groups have filed multiple lawsuits in an effort to change the way the plant operates.

Under a January 2007 settlement agreement, wind farm operators agreed to shut down or relocate 300 of the most lethal wind turbines during the high point of the migration season in November and December. In addition, a team of scientists officially known as the Scientific Review Committee was established to study the ongoing number of bird kills.

On December 21, the Review Committee released findings indicating raptor deaths had not declined. In response, the committee recommended the shutdown be extended from two months to four months, through February each year, and an additional 309 new turbines be shut down or relocated during the peak migration period. Even so, the committee estimated the four-month shutdown might reduce deaths by only 30 percent.

“We are deeply concerned that we haven’t seen a reduction in bird deaths, and concerned as well that certain terms of the settlement were apparently not fully implemented on the agreed-upon timeline,” said Elizabeth Murdock, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

Murdock also expressed concern that the Altamont Pass wind farm operators are objecting to the Review Committee’s recommendations to extend the time period for shutting down some turbines. “The highest raptor migration is during these four winter months, which coincide with the lowest amount of power generation at Altamont,” said Murdock.

“Taking the latter point into account, shutting down shouldn’t be a hardship,” Murdock observed.

H. Sterling Burnett