The operator of a proposed 318-megawatt wind turbine facility near the city of Mojave got the thumbs-up for its 108-turbine project from Kern County supervisors Tuesday, but only on the condition that the facility include a way to monitor nearby California condors and shut down turbines if the endangered birds come too close.
The Alta East wind project, one of several Alta Wind projects in the general area of Mojave and Tehachapi, would be built on almost 2,600 acres near the intersection of state routes 14 and 58, east of Tehachapi Pass.
California condors have not been seen on the property, but the endangered birds -- the subject of an intensive, 25-year captive breeding program -- are expanding their range eastward from a stronghold in the Tejon Ranch area. Wildlife biologists say it's only a matter of time before the large birds venture into the Tehachapi Pass wind development area.
Under the terms of Kern County's approval of Alta East wind, developer TerraGen must install a monitoring system that will alert operators when radio-tagged California condors approach the facility. Operators must then shut down the turbines, which will take approximately a minute to come to a halt.
California condors are especially vulnerable to injury from large wind turbines due to their large size, slow movement, relative lack of maneuverability and habit of soaring while watching the ground. Larger turbines' blade tips can move at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour, and can inflict serious injury.
Local opponents of the wind development, including Michael Fortuna of Friends of Mojave, spoke in opposition to the project before the Kern Board of Supervisors Tuesday, citing the cumulative effect of the sprawling patchwork of wind projects in the area approved a piece at a time. The supervisors approved the project anyway, despite admitting that the condor protection measures they required were a partial solution at best. About half the condors in the wild wear no radio transmitters and would thus fail to trigger the alert system. Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt told the Board of Supervisors that the project posed a significant threat to other birds as well, and that approval of the condor protection restrictions would mean the Supervisors agreed the threat to other birds existed.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the project with the condor protection measures in place.