News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

Feds Ask For Help in Wind Turbine Eagle Deaths

Golden eagle in flight | Photo: Alaska NPS/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has asked the public for help in gathering information on eagle mortality in the wake of the death of a golden eagle at the North Sky River wind facility in Kern County on January 29. The eagle was found near a turbine just one month after the facility started operation in December 2012.

The facility, owned by Florida-based energy developer NextEra, had been the subject of lawsuits over potential threats to eagles and other birds.

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"We are asking individuals as well as wind energy companies with information or knowledge about the death of eagles that may have been killed due to contact with wind turbines, to contact us," said Jill Birchell, special agent in charge of the FWS Office of Law Enforcement for California and Nevada, in a press release Monday.

When it's built out, North Sky River will hold 100 turbines on 12,781 acres of privately owned lands in the Tehachapi Mountains northwest of Mojave. At maximum output, the facility will generate 297 megawatts of power. North Sky River isn't far from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's Pine Tree Wind Farm, itself the site of a number of reported deaths of raptors, including eight reported eagle deaths in a two-year span.

The request from FWS also comes after revelations that the agency held a series of secret meetings with high-level "stakeholders," including wind industry leaders and representatives of large environmental groups, to help craft policy as the agency works toward extending the timespan of "take" permits for bald and golden eagles from five to 30 years.

FWS is in charge of enforcing protections for eagles under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and it's under the provisions of that law that the agency issues take permits to wind developers to allow those developers' turbines to kill eagles under certain circumstances.

According to Monday's release, no such permits have been issued in the Tehachapi wind development area.

"Un-permitted take of eagles is the illegal take of eagles," Birchell said in the release. "We want power companies or any company involved in planning to build wind generation facilities in the Tehachapi range, where a significant golden eagle population exists, to contact the Service well in advance of construction and work with our biologists to develop conservation plans that will avoid take of eagles to the extent practical and serve as the basis for an application to lawfully take eagles for companies who proceed with wind development in this area."

Criminal penalties for harming eagles run up to a maximum fine of $5,000 and a year's imprisonment for a first offense.

FWS is asking that anyone who may have information regarding eagle deaths can contact the FWS Office of Law Enforcement in Sacramento at (916) 569-8444 or via email at lawenforcement@fws.gov.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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This sounds favorable but somewhat confusing. This project lies in Kern County, CA and code for wind turbine sites require either security fencing around each turbine or the entire site fenced, whether on private land or public. Although species are sometimes bashed from the air and fall to death on the ground below, there are times when the species are slammed and manage to fly or glide a bit further to free themselves of the security fencing, where the public could then potentially assist with this request, if sited all around the facility in anticipation of this to occur.
The other confusing number that keeps circulating is the 297MW. This is a valid concern since it equates to impacts. First in September 18, 2009 a letter sent to Kern County noted "Figure 2" for rezoning and a 297MW final capacity increase. December 15, 2009 KC Planning BofS Staff Report notes a rezoning request on 52,000 acres by Kern County Planning Department along with others.
May 6, 2011 the Draft EIR noted in the Reduced Project Size Alternate C ...." removal of up to nine WTGs in the northeast portion of the site to increase the distance between the WTGs and both Butterbredt Springs and the nearest Golden Eagle nest."
August 8, 2011 Recharge News http://www.rechargenews.com/wind/article1292558.ece notes PG&E has reached an agreement to buy the output 163MW NSR wind project. It also notes an expected capacity factor of 35%. Using a
"standard calculator" this equates to 57.05MW expected.
August 11, 2011 the KC Planning Commission approved the zone change request minus the nine WTGs noted above.
September 13, 2011 page 433 of the EIR - The KC BofS perhaps using a "non-standard calculator", noted once operational, the project will provide up to 339MW of installed capacity (this included a small adjacent project which included about 13WTGs).
August 27, 2011 pages 172-173 of the September 13, 2011 EIR Staff Report noted the WTGs were changed to GE 1.62 MW units. Using a "standard calculator" this would equate to roughly 163MW by multiplying 102WTGs by 1.6MW.
In comparison this is 134MWs below the approved and noted capacity of 163MWs on the Power Purchase Agreement and when compared to the KC documents. Perhaps BLM CACA047847 on 9,706 acres of land already applied for in 2005 then acreage increased in 2010 by Boulevard Associates, Inc. and named North Sky River Type II may be the additional
land and capacity expected. Or, perhaps the "non-standard" calculator is not only used when forecasting MWs, but when reviewing the species deaths or impact factors. If so, this could greatly increase these numbers. Wish we as the public could assist more.

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The wind industry and FWS are quick to point out how dangerous power lines are to all birds including eagles and condors. But there really is a huge difference between the killing power of turbine blades and power lines, unless of course one supports bogus research. Power lines are not swatting birds out of the air while moving at 200 mph. Power lines can also be easily seen by birds (which have great eyesight) under most daytime circumstances. Bats can also easily avoid power lines. There is also tremendous difference between a power line a collision and a turbine blade strike. With a power line collision there is a reasonable chance for survival, but when a blade moving at 200 mph, hits a bird it is all over. The chances of getting hit by a turbine blade are also far greater, not only because the blades are moving at a tremendous rate of speed, but the impact square footage from the rotor sweep of one turbine is equal to over 200 miles of 1 inch diameter power line. So if you have a hundred 2.5 MW turbines in a 100 square mile area, it is the equivalent to the square footage of over 20,000 miles of power lines moving at a high rate of speed crammed into a small area. There really is no question that wind turbines are far more deadly for birds than power lines.


It should be no surprise to the FWS that the North Sky River wind project Pine will be extremely deadly for golden eagles, condors, or anything else that flies. At maximum output, the facility will generate 297 megawatts of power. When look at the combined rotor sweep of the project, the spinning blades will be equal to over 25,000 miles of power lines stuffed into 12,781 acres. The killing has only just begun.


But if the upper levels of the FWS really wanted to get to the bottom of the golden eagle kills at North Sky River they would start by overturning all the gag orders that were signed for this project. Otherwise the public is not ever going to help when everything is on private land patrolled by wind farm security. But of course the FWS know this because they help the wind industry set up this whole scenario. They would also find out how worthless the eagle radar systems are.
As for this statement from the FWS in the article............"Un-permitted take of eagles is the illegal take of eagles," Birchell said in the release. "We want power companies or any company involved in planning to build wind generation facilities in the Tehachapi range, where a significant golden eagle population exists, to contact the Service well in advance of construction and work with our biologists to develop conservation plans that will avoid take of eagles to the extent practical and serve as the basis for an application to lawfully take eagles for companies who proceed with wind development in this area."...........It is time the FWS quit playing this whole "develop conservation plans that will avoid take of eagles" game because there is no way to every make the propeller style turbine safe for any eagle. These damn things are killers. If you did intend on killing eagles you would never put these turbines in eagle habitat. There is one other game the FWS should immediately stop, that being the inflation of eagle population numbers for the industry so it appears on paper that these turbines are killing a lower percentage of the population.

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The wind energy development companies are deplorable. The principals have one focus - $$$$$$$. There is one single answer to stopping another bird or bat death - retrofit and install protective shields over the blades to prevent another bird or bat from being slaughtered. Until they're fitted and fully functional, shut the current installed base down. The equipment is dangerous to the ecosystems. Maybe some of the readers have never experienced nature but many of us fully acknowledge that our survival hinges on the health and diversity of our surroundings. It's astounding that the designers of this equipment did not consider the necessity, include birds, bats and nature, the people who are ill from infrasound, having to deal with the daily harrassment of noises from hundreds of spinning blades. The design element of basic safety rules for moving part, like every computer fan is covered for the safety of the user is standard and yet equivalent safety measures weren't considered for these nearly 500 foot high wind generators with 186 foot fiberglass blades, spinning at 200 mph at the tips? Then, to pepper these giants into the most ecologically sensitive breeding, nesting, migratory corridors on this planet and expect acceptance of them isn't going to happen. To the contrary. Give me a break.

The executives did not fulfill their responsibility to the energy industry or taxpayers paying top dollar to subsidize this renewable power model. We all expected a sustainable product in return and that they would be basis for energy development for the next 100 years. Instead they produced junk, and the reason for resounding opposition worldwide. Those men and women should be fired for incompetency.

We all had high hopes with wind energy, even people like me who oppose the primitive models put into production. What disappointment it was to see all of the square milesprime farmland gone, that should have been kept intact to feed our local community as our planet heats up. You can't eat fiberglass or concrete. It's time to end this ecological disaster and shut that equipment down until birds, bats and wildlife are permanently and fully protected, instead of lobbying to change the Endangered Species Act, Desert Conservation Policies and in California to gut CEQA. The transmission lines need to be adjusted down to ground level. Brainiacs, you're paid to figure out these national issues. Do your jobs and make us all so proud we hail you as sustainable heroes of the 21st century.

For the record I live in the Tehachapi Pass. There are no raptors, no scrub jays, no songbirds, no burrowing owls and not even a bat any more. They have all been killed by the turbine blades and transmission lines thanks to the 8500 of them in operation in eastern Kern County. ...the wind in the Tehachapi Pass & Mojave is diminishing each year. Will bet the wind operators are losing money.

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Sand canyon has hit the nail directly. Wind energy scams started with Enron-at least in the US-read Enrons ethics manual and you will soon learn there are no ethics. It's time the USFW step up and be accountable for the avian and bat destruction that is widespread. Eagles are our national symbol-the mass destruction needs to be stopped before it is too late to recover. Fish and wildlife its your job to protect these natural resources for future generations. NOW DO YOUR JOB!

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As we continue to track these stories, it seems we're trying to stuff square pegs in round holes. The reason for stating this is while reading the February 19, 2013 KCET Rewire article 'Federal agency slammed over 'secretive' eagle-wind energy policy proposal', it noted a November 2012 meeting at the headquarters of renewable energy developer RES Americas. Assuming this related to the one in Colorado held on November 29, 2012, according to the meeting minutes, attendees included a representative from the developer who build the North Sky River Project in which the Feds, or USF&WS according to this article are requesting public input about eagle deaths on.
Now the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative - Wind Wildlife Research Meeting IX - was conducted between November 27-30, 2012 in Denver, Colorado and was held at the Omni Interlocken Hotel according to the meeting minutes. Meeting minutes page 5 of 5 indicates this same representive of this same developer of the North Sky River Project that the Feds or USF&WS are requesting information regarding eagles deaths on also attended this meeting.
When comparing this March 13, 2013 KCET Rewire article to the actual March 11, 2013 USF&WS request which noted 'In California, the Service is currently working with four wind energy companies and one federally recognized Tribe to develop eagle conservation plans that will serve as the basis for an application to take eagles,' we noticed that the four companies noted do not include the developer of the North Sky River Project, yet did on the other two sets of meeting minutes held in Colorado. Whether they are still a part of the discussion relating to future eagle guidlines or decided to quit attending we are not sure.
One thing we are sure about though, is there were no secrets about the threat to eagles going in on the North Sky River Project, with the amount of comments submitted, the LADWP Pine Tree Project killing Eagles next door and under Federal investigation itself, there would be no way to miss it. Even the surveys implied there would be significant impacts.
But what is the worst of all evil, was what occurred by the Lead Agency in charge of monitoring these Projects and a quote heard that reinstated nine of the turbines noted to be in the worst possible locations, "...the only way to guarantee that there would be no impact is to remove the turbines, and I think you have heard from the applicant that his Power Purchase Agreement does require a certain number of turbines..." as the Kern County Planning Director indicated on September 13, 2011 at 05:20:25 hours http://kern.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1796 during the 9/13/11 Kern County Board of Supervisors hearing relating to the removal of the nine WTGs by the Planning Commission in the northeast portion of the site to increase the distance between the WTGs and both Butterbredt Springs and the nearest Golden Eagles nest as stated in the EIR Reduced Project Size Alternate C. The Board of Supervisors bowed to her request and voted to reinstate. Hence one month later and one eagle dead, only decades left on the Project's life. Multiply the death by the years, speculate if there are any baby eagles still in the nest of the brutally killed mother or father, and count the young as additionally killed due to the Project.
Again, seems to be square pegs in round holes. Prosecution, fines and removal of turbines would be appropriate.

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I recently reviewed a bogus mortality study handed to me by some very concerned citizens. Looking at the factors and flaws of the study, in my opinion there was a kill rate of 500-600 fatalities per MW per Year. The bogus study claimed only about 6 percent of this figure. I believe an investigative story is going to hit soon about this pitiful study and how most of the mortality was hidden. Watch for it.