Environmental groups, energy company reach agreement on wind turbines

Turbine upgrades should reduce number of migratory birds killed each year

In an effort to decrease the number of migratory birds killed each year by wind turbines in the Altamont Pass, the attorney general's office Tuesday announced an agreement between environmental groups and one of the area's major wind energy producers to upgrade its facilities with safer, more efficient turbines.

Attorney General Jerry Brown's office said that NextEra Energy Resources -- the largest turbine operator in the Altamont Pass Wind Resources Area, which spans Alameda and Contra Costa counties -- has agreed to replace 2,400 wind turbines over the next four years and replace all its existing turbines no later than 2015.

"NextEra is the only company we're settling with, but the company owns about 50 percent of the turbines at the site," attorney general spokeswoman Christine Gasparac said.

Californians for Renewable Energy and five Bay Area Audubon Society chapters were involved in today's settlement.

"Our agreement sets an aggressive schedule for removing the old-generation turbines and replacing them with new-generation turbines that should substantially reduce impacts to birds," Golden Gate Audubon Society conservation director Mike Lynes said in a statement.

The more than 5,000 wind turbines in Altamont Pass were found to kill more than 4,000 birds annually, including federally protected species such as the golden eagle, according to a 2004 study commissioned by the California Energy Commission.

According to the attorney general's office, the bird fatalities in the Altamont Pass are higher than any other wind farm in the country, due to its position on a major migratory bird route.

The new turbines, which will replace those installed in the 1980s, are expected to be more efficient energy producers as well as safer for birds.

"Any time birds are continuing to be killed out there, we can't call it a victory," Golden Gate Audubon executive director Mark Welther said. "But this is a significant step forward."

Environmental experts are hoping the new infrastructure will reduce the number of birds killed each year by up to 80 percent.

NextEra has agreed to put up new turbines in locations believed to be more environmentally friendly.

The renewable energy company has also agreed to pay $2.5 million in mitigation fees -- half to the East Bay and Livermore area park districts for raptor habitat creation and half to the state Energy Commission's Public Integrated Research Program.

Chris Cooney, Bay City News

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Like this comment
Posted by Mike Cheney
a resident of Downtown
on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Can anyone explain to me what is going to be different with the new turbines from the old that is going to make it safer for the birds? If it's in this story I'm blind to it. I can only imagine that they will move slower but still produce more power, but it doesn't say that. Does anyone know?
Raptor lover.

Like this comment
Posted by Me Too
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Here is a perfect example of major energy problems we have. No matter what method we use to produce electricity its going to have some affect on the planet. Whether its oil, wind, ocean, nuclear, geothermal, solar, etc. it comes down to the fact that we are changing the way the energy is dispersed across the planet - that's how we get it to our homes, cars and work. There is no perfect solution, but we have to be open to all solutions and also look at the reasonableness of the side affect and if there are alternatives.

Like this comment
Posted by Follow the Money
a resident of Del Prado
on Dec 9, 2010 at 6:09 am

Based on this article, the key point is that the "environmentalist" have accomplished a $2.5 million shakedown of NextEra. There's absolutely no discussion of how the new turbines will kill less birds. Is this because of poor reporting or because it is really not the driving factor in this whole process.

Like this comment
Posted by Larry McKinnon
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2010 at 8:38 am

It's easy to explain, it is a win win situation for everyone.
The owners of the wind farms get to keep everything, but they have to claim less birds will be killed.
The environmentalists will agree, and sign the back of a check for 2.5 million dollars. Means the environmentalists got what they wanted, the wind farms got what they want. How else can you explain it, other then a shakedown.

Like this comment
Posted by Big Ed
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2010 at 9:36 am

No way in h*ll is it a win-win situation. Its another case of environmental loons siphoning money out of your wallet because actions like these raise energy prices. Who do you think is going to pay for all those new windmills in the end??? Certainly not the company that will own the windmills. They simply pass the cost on to PG&E who promptly passes the increased cost (probably with and additional add-on) on to the energy consumers. You wind up paying for it directly, or indirectly through higher prices on products and services you buy. And, it also results in more businesses and people leaving California (along with their wallets).

Like this comment
Posted by John smith
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2010 at 10:37 am

The new turbines are much larger and hence spin much slower, decreasing the risk of bird strike, they are also above the height raptors hunt from so again reducing the risk to these larger birds.

The new turbines also offer substantially increased energy capture, and therefore maximize the return from this resource that is located close to load centers, unlike many other wind sites.

This is a good thing, for all involved.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike Cheney
a resident of Downtown
on Dec 16, 2010 at 9:46 am

Thank You, John Smith, finally an answer I can understand and believe it sounds like an ok solution. I can only hope the young Golden Eagle I saw as I made a run throught Vasco over the week end stays clear of the blades. Nature can be a great stress relief but our lives need to move forword in tandum with nature for the betterment of all of us. Extremes in any direction are not a good thing. That's my belief.
Thanks again John.

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