News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Feds Set To Issue First Eagle Kill Permit To California Wind Facility

California golden eagle in flight | Photo: Chuck Abbe/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing to issue its first-ever take permit to allow for the accidental killing of golden eagles at a California wind facility. Under the terms of the permit, the Shiloh IV Wind Project, a 100-megawatt wind facility in Solano County's Montezuma Hills near Rio Vista, will be allowed to kill up to five golden eagles over a five-year period without incurring penalties under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA).

In return, the project's owners, EDF Renewable Energy, will pay the utility Pacific Gas & Electric to retrofit 133 power poles in Monterey County to reduce the chances that eagles landing on them will be electrocuted. Electrocution from power lines is a significant hazard to eagles and other raptors. USFWS holds that the mitigation will actually result in fewer eagle deaths overall.

The take permit will be valid for five years. USFWS is currently proposing to extend future take permits under BGEPA to 30-year durations, a plan for which they found themselves hauled into court earlier this month.

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The USFWS' Final Environmental Assessment (EA) for the facility's take permit will be made formally available tomorrow, though you can already view it on the USFWS website. The agency is releasing the EA with what's called a "Finding of No Significant Impact" (FONSI), which if unchallenged will allow the agency to issue the take permit without further public comment.

USFWS reached the FONSI decision as a result of the mitigation component of the project. PG&E has selected a number of power poles near Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey County as the power poles to be retrofitted to provide safer perches for eagles and other raptors.

That project will offer a distinct benefit to Monterey County eagles, but is unlikely to directly benefit golden eagles in Solano County, including at least one active nest within a mile of Shiloh IV.

According to USFWS, no bald eagles are expected to be harmed by the project.

The Shiloh IV project, which uses 50 two-megawatt wind turbines to generate power from the winds off San Francisco Bay, is what's known in the trade as a "repowering" project: it was built to replace an earlier wind project that used smaller 100 kilowatt turbines. The older turbines were far more numerous and incorporated latticework support structures that may have tempted eagles and other birds to perch in dangerous areas. However, the much larger blade sweep area of Shiloh IV's newer turbines, and the higher blade tip speeds that result, cause USFWS to conclude that the repowering project may have increased the overall threat to eagles.

Not covered by the nation's first eagle take permit are the 11 other wind facilities in the Montezuma Hills Wind Resource Area, which include 478 operating turbines with heights between 90 and 428 feet.

USFWS expects to issue the permit after 30 days from tomorrow's publication of the availability notice for the FONSI and EA in the Federal Register.

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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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