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

Wind Project Kills Eagle One Month After Startup

ReWire has learned that the North Sky River Wind project, which attracted fierce opposition from environmental groups concerned about potential threat to eagles and California condors, was the site of a golden eagle death in January.

Ileene Anderson, who let ReWire know about the kill and is the Biologist and Wildlands Deserts Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, says that North Sky River's developer NextEra and government agencies pushed forward with the project despite high wildlife mortality and the nearby Pine Tree wind project. The aim was to get North Sky River producing power by December 31 so that it could qualify for the federal Wind Production Tax Credit, which wind proponents feared would expire at the end of the year.

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The eagle kill apparently occurred on January 29, just a month after North Sky River started generating power.

The Center for Biological Diversity is one of several groups that sued to stop the 100-turbine, 12,781-acre project last year, charging that North Sky River -- a subsidiary of NextEra Energy -- posed unacceptable risk not only to eagles, but to California condors and southwestern willow flycatchers, both on the Endangered Species list. The plaintiffs in that suit pointed out that Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's Pine Tree wind facility, North Sky River's neighbor in the rugged hills northwest of Mojave, had killed at least eight golden eagles in a two-year span.

As quoted in a CBD press release announcing the suit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wasn't optimistic about North Sky river's impact on birds, given its neighbor's poor record:

In August 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote: "The first full year of fatality monitoring [for the Pine Tree wind project] resulted in an estimated 1,595 fatalities per year, which -- per megawatt (11.8 fatalities/megawatt) -- is among the highest fatality rates being recorded in the nation . . . It's reasonable to estimate that the proposed [North Sky River] project would have avian fatality rates equal to or greater than those observed at the adjacent Pine Tree wind facility."

When completed, North Sky River will have the capacity of 297 megawatts, one-tenth the output of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California.

As we reported in August, the green groups failed to win an injunction halting construction.

Neither the FWS nor North Sky River's owner NextEra offered comment to ReWire by press time. We'll keep you posted if they do respond, though the CBD's Anderson did note to us that FWS has started to keep relevant data close to its vest of late, citing "ongoing investigations."

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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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Only one month and one death, what a shame... Was this a 'review' or 'pre-approval' by the Lead Agency?

July 26, 2011 - Memo from NextEra to Planning Director 'Any reduction in the production of MWh (be it through curtailment, maintenance, low wind, or any other source) has a direct negative effect on the economics of the installed capital which makes up the wind energy facility. Even a small amount of curtailment can provide serious financial risk to a wind project and any amount of curtailment can have detrimental effects on the ability to secure financing for a commercial scale wind project.'

August 8, 2011 - REWIRE News: PG&E signs PPA noting 163MWs at a 35% expected capacity equating to 57.05MW only.

The Draft EIR page 1-15 noted under Reduced Project Alternate ‘C’: 'A removal of up to 9WTGs in the NE portion of the site to increase the distance between the WTGs and both Butterbredt Springs and the nearest golden eagle nest,….'

August 11, 2011 - Planning Commission eliminates 9WTGs in the NE portion.

September 13, 2011 Hearing - Planning Director at 05:20:25 '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....'

September 13, 2011 - Board approval page 433 EIR 'Once operational, the Project will provide up to 339 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity.” (only 281.95MWs more than the PPA notes).

Where's next and how many more deaths?