CA Wind Facilities Want Permits That Will Allow Them to Harm Eagles

Wind turbines in Solano County | Photo: Corey seeman/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Four California-based wind power facilities have applied to the federal government for permits to harm eagles, ReWire has learned.

The applications, revealed as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) search by an Oklahoma journalist, would shield the wind power companies from prosecution under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) if eagles are injured or killed by their turbines.

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The four facilities are the Shiloh IV and Solano in Northern California's Solano County, operated by EDF and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, respectively; Terra-Gen's Alta East Wind project planned for Kern County near Mojave; and RES Americas' Granite Mountain Wind near Victorville in San Bernardino County. Ten other take permit applications have been filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by wind developers in other parts of the country.

A "take" is legal jargon for harming, harassing, or killing members of a protected species. Generally, if a project only kills enough wildlife to stay within the conditions of its take permit, it's protected from legal penalty.

The existence of the permit applications was revealed by FOIA requests by Oklahoma journalist Louise Red Corn, and shared Thursday in a web-based seminar held by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). The 102.5-megawatt Shiloh IV Wind project applied for its take permit in March 2012, and the other three projects have applied in the last six months.

Notable by their absence from the list of applications, noted ABC's Kelly Fuller during the seminar, are the Altamont Pass wind area and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's Pine Tree Wind Farm, both of which have existing eagle death tolls -- a considerable toll over the last three decades at Altamont, with an average of 67 eagles a year meeting their end due to collisions with those turbines in Alameda County. Applicant Alta East made the papers recently over that facility's first-ever allowed take of California condors.

ReWire hasn't yet learned how many eagles the four applicants are seeking permission to take over the course of their permits, nor whether they involve bald or golden eagles or both. Until the FWS signs off on those permits, there will likely be some disagreement between the developers and the agency over actual numbers. FWS historically tends toward higher estimates of injury and mortality than developers suggest.

Of the 14 take permit applications nationwide, the first to be approved will likely be Osage Wind, on the Osage Nation's Reservation near Tulsa, Oklahoma. That project's owner, Wind Capital, applied for its take permit in October 2012. Wind Capital is asking permission to kill three bald eagles per year over the project's 40-year lifespan. If that permit comes through as expected, it'll be the first wind turbine-related eagle take permit in U.S. history, according to ABC, and would be approved over the vociferous objections of the Osage Nation, which is on record as saying a single eagle mortality at the project is one too many.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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