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Bird groups challenge Altamont Pass avian protection experiment

A recently finalised 13-year plan to protect birds at California's Altamont Pass has been challenged in court by a group that says the new regulations do not go far enough. The lawsuit, filed by Californians for Renewable Energy, asserts that Alameda County supervisors were "arbitrary and capricious" in approving the bird protection plan, even though it includes shutting down all 5600 turbines for months at a time in coming years (Windpower Monthly, November 2005). Altamont Pass is a main migratory pathway for a variety of raptors and has been an environmental flashpoint for years. The county's plan marks the first time in the 24-year history of the area that owners have agreed to shut down any of the turbines. "These groups file lawsuits to draw attention and raise more funds," says Rick Koebbe, president of Pacific Winds Inc, owner of 920 turbines at Altamont. "They only look at their one special interest and don't think about the environmental benefits of wind as a whole." Jim Walker of EnXco, which owns 442 turbines in the area, says Alameda County did a good job of putting together a "tough but fair" plan. "The important news here is that if you drive down the highway as of November, you'll notice 2700 turbines have been shut down through the end of December," he says. "It's a grand experiment for bird protection and represents a commitment of several million dollars a year by the wind industry. From here, things should be based on facts and science and not rhetoric." The county's plan also includes the eventual replacement of all the area's turbines with slower-moving machines that are much more friendly to birds. "It's notable that a number of the area's projects in Contra Costa County are voluntarily participating," Walker says. "It shows that the industry is genuinely concerned about finding solutions."

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