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Bird kills law suit to proceed says judge -- Altamont Pass owners go to court

A lawsuit filed last year in an Alameda County court over the number of raptors being killed at California's Altamont Wind Energy Resource Center will be heard by the court this year. Judge Ronald Sabraw ruled last month he would not throw the case out of court, saying that the California-based Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and co-plaintiff Peter Galvin have a property interest in the birds the wind turbines are affecting.

Named in the lawsuit are FPL Energy, Global Renewable Energy Partners, Green Ridge Power, Altamont Power, Enxco, Seawest Windpower, Windworks, Altamont Winds and Pacific Winds.

CBD filed the suit after reviewing a draft plan intended to alleviate the impact of the turbines on bird life completed by the owners of Altamont Pass wind farms late last summer. The CBD's Jeff Miller said the plan was just more research on bird kills, not a remedy for up to 10,000 birds killed over the past 20 years (Windpower Monthly, November 2004). CBD wants the turbine owners to pay for the purchase of easements on land that is habitat for the raptors outside the pass.

CBD and other environmental organisations also challenged the conditional use permits issued in 2003 and 2004 by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors on 3900 turbines in Altamont Pass because the permits were given without environmental review. That appeal will be heard this month and in April.

"Although they have had well over a year since our permit appeal to the Board of Supervisors to come up with a meaningful proposal, the three successive mitigation plans proposed by the wind power companies would in no way significantly reduce the massive bird kills at Altamont and contain no commitment to off-site mitigation," Miller says.

huge potential

The 5400 turbines at Altamont Pass have a combined capacity of 542 MW, one quarter of the 2114 MW currently installed in California. The area has a huge potential for repowering of old wind projects and new wind development if the bird mortality problem can be overcome.

Steve Stengel of FPL, one of the area's largest owners of turbines, says his company already has "taken action on about 10% of the turbines" it owns. FPL has repowered a number of turbines, he says, removing 169 old turbines and replacing those with 31 new Vestas V47 660 kW turbines and relocating another 100 turbines that were high risk for raptors.

A CEC report released two months ago calls for a 50% reduction in raptor mortality within three years and an 85% reduction in six years. The authors suggest immediately shutting down problem turbines -- about 7% to 16% of the total -- and shutting down 43% to 100% of the machines on a seasonal basis, depending on when different species are hunting in the area. They also suggest immediately retrofitting poles to prevent electrocutions and implementing measures that would reduce raptors' attraction to turbines.

"We continue to work with all the stakeholder groups and, in the short term, would look at seasonal shutdowns or the removal of high risk turbines or repowering," Stengel says. "And, we want to do more, but at the end of the day, it's important to have a consensus so that all the stakeholders agree to what will be done." He says FPL has no repowering plans for Altamont this year.

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