Alameda County Flubs First Step in Reducing
Bird Kills by Obsolete Wind Turbines
Supervisors Poised to Appoint Industry Advocate as “Neutral” Scientific Monitor
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 3, 2006
Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Oakland, Calif. – The Alameda County Planning Department is recommending that long-time wind industry paid consultant and advocate WEST, Inc. serve as the so-called “neutral” scientific monitor for avian deaths caused by the Altamont Pass wind turbines, despite a clear and continuing financial conflict of interest. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors will consider and vote on the WEST nomination this Thursday, April 6, 2006, at a hearing at 10:00 a.m. in Oakland, at 1221 Oak Street, 5th Floor.
“WEST’s clear and continuing financial conflicts of interest disqualify it from serving as a neutral scientific monitor of Altamont Pass bird kills,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity. “WEST has long sought to minimize the significance of the staggering numbers of raptors killed by Altamont wind turbines. The Supervisors must reject the Planning Department’s nomination of WEST as the neutral scientific monitor, which would be a clear case of the fox guarding the henhouse.”
In September 2005, the Supervisors adopted new permit conditions for over 4,000 existing, obsolete wind turbines at Altamont. These turbines kill an estimated 880 to 1,300 eagles, hawks, falcons and owls each year, a slaughter that has continued for more than 20 years since the turbines were first installed. Among the permit conditions was the appointment of a “neutral third party” to conduct an “intensive, scientifically-rigorous and independent” monitoring program of the avian deaths.
This monitoring will be crucial for designing additional mortality reduction measures for existing turbines (for which the Supervisors authorized continued operation for up to 13 more years) and establishing the baseline of existing mortality by which replacement with new turbines (“re-powering” projects) at Altamont will be judged. Monitoring is more than simply searching for dead birds. In order to estimate total mortality, the monitor must select and apply statistical correction factors, adjusting for birds killed by turbines but not found during searches because they were overlooked or were scavenged by other animals. Choosing the proper correction factor is a critical step that can greatly increase or decrease the final mortality estimate.
• WEST served as a paid advocate for the wind companies during the permit renewal proceedings before the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Department. WEST president Dale Strickland spoke on behalf of the Altamont Pass wind companies during public hearings before the Supervisors and the Planning Department, advocating a “go-slow” approach that would have required even fewer mortality reduction measures than the Board eventually adopted. WEST also advocated that any wind turbine operator should be exempted from measures to reduce avian mortality if it could show financial hardship.
• WEST was paid by the wind companies to attack an August 2004 California Energy Commission study of avian mortality caused by Altamont Pass wind turbines. It is widely recognized that the August 2004 California Energy Commission study, the result of years of field research and data analysis, was a watershed report in terms of quantifying the killing of raptors by Altamont Pass wind turbines. Recognizing the significance of the August 2004 report, the wind companies sought to discredit it by hiring WEST to attack the report, which WEST did in comments submitted to the Commission in July 2005.
WEST has also sought to minimize the impact of wind turbine avian mortality by comparing it to the numbers of songbirds killed by housecats. This comparison has no scientific validity, since housecats do not kill golden eagles, and eagles and other raptors are “keystone” species that have far smaller populations and far lower reproductive rates than songbirds.
• WEST has been a paid consultant for the wind power industry for many years at Altamont Pass and elsewhere. WEST’s clients include FPL Energy, enXco, Pacific Winds, and Seawest Windpower, all of which own or operate turbines at Altamont Pass.
• The County Planning Department proposal would allow WEST to continue working for Altamont Pass wind companies at other locations, continuing WEST’s conflict of interest into the future. Almost all of the Altamont wind companies also develop and operate wind energy projects elsewhere. Because of the current rush of new wind energy projects nationwide caused by high electricity prices, tax credits and interest in renewable energy, many Altamont companies are pursuing projects elsewhere that require consultants such as WEST. Although WEST would no longer work at Altamont for the wind companies operating there, it would be free to do unlimited work for these same companies at other locations.
• WEST has never made public the results of a County-required monitoring program at FPL’s Diablo Winds wind turbine project, in violation of the monitoring program’s requirements. The only new turbine project that has gone forward at Altamont Pass in the past decade is FPL’s Diablo Winds re-powering project, which began operation in December 2004. One of the Diablo Winds permit conditions imposed by the Supervisors was an avian mortality monitoring program, similar to the September 2005 permit conditions. The Diablo Winds monitoring requires monthly and annual mortality reports to the County. WEST conducts that monitoring program for FPL, yet has made none of the required monthly or annual monitoring reports to the County. WEST’s violation of the terms of the Diablo Winds monitoring program is further evidence of its unsuitability as the “neutral” scientific monitor.
More information regarding Altamont Pass bird kills is available at: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/bdes/altamont/altamont.html
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