A group of environmentalists seeking to halt construction of a wind project that they say could kill California condors walked out of court empty-handed on Wednesday. Judge William Palmer of the Kern County Superior Court in Bakersfield declined to grant the groups an injunction that would have halted work on the North Sky River wind project north of Mojave.
Palmer will rule in October on whether the project should be permanently shut down. In the meantime, construction continues as NextEra grades, builds roads, and installs foundations for turbine towers. Together with the smaller proposed Jawbone project, immediately adjacent to North Sky River and owned entirely by an individual developer, the project would have a capacity of about 325 megawatts when completed.
Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club, sued in October to reopen environmental review of NextEra's 100-turbine project, which they say poses a distinct danger to California condors now expanding their range into the eastern reaches of the Tehachapis. NextEra's facility would be near the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's controversial Pine Tree Wind Farm, which has been the scene of turbine-related deaths of federally protected golden eagles and other sensitive bird species.
The condor, brought back from the brink of extinction in the 1980s by an aggressive captive breeding and release program, has been steadily moving from a historic stronghold in the Tejon Ranch area into the arid foothills above the Mojave Desert. Condors are especially vulnerable to wind turbine injuries, as they maneuver slowly and look toward the ground while soaring. Wind turbine operators whose facilities kill or injure condors may face criminal charges, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists have warned that all wind developments in the Tehachapi-western Mojave area will eventually pose a threat to the birds.
"We are spending a lot of money and a lot of resources to bring the condor back from the brink of extinction," said attorney Babak Nafacy, who is representing the three environmental plaintiffs, to a reporter from Bakersfield television station KGET. "Now that its range has increased and it is going to be very likely using the project site, we are very concerned there are going to be fatalities," Nafacy said.