Poor surveys blamed for eagle deaths

UNITED STATES: The controversial deaths of six eagles at a Californian wind farm are not typical of other wind farms in the area and may have resulted from inadequate pre-construction surveys, according to the California Wind Energy Association (Calwea).

The industry association was speaking for the first time since the deaths of the protected birds at the 120MW Pine Tree project in Tehachapi hit the headlines nationwide in August. The golden eagle deaths are being investigated by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), which could lead to the first US criminal prosecution of illegal bird kills at a wind project. The project is owned and developed by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).

Nancy Rader, executive director of Calwea, noted that LADWP is a municipal utility, so it is allowed to approve its own environmental-impact report for a pre-construction land-use permit. LADWP is not a member of Calwea.

Conservation plan

A spokesman for LADWP declined to comment, including on whether there is a conflict of interest in self-regulation. Previously, an LADWP official had said the utility was "concerned" and was expanding its "extensive field monitoring". The utility also said it would develop an eagle conservation plan with federal and state wildlife agencies.

Tehachapi bird kills may be under official scrutiny because of the fast wind development both in California and in Tehachapi. Installed wind capacity in the Tehachapi area has recently doubled to 1.58GW. Another 3.02GW had been permitted or was in the pipeline as of 31 August.

"The agencies are trying to scare the living daylights out of our industry," said Rader, who added that she was "frustrated" that the wildlife agencies had not yet assessed the significance of Pine Tree's six eagle kills to the area's eagle population. FWS would not comment on the probe, which will take months.

The Pine Tree probe comes as FWS is finalising its voluntary wind-energy guidelines, designed to minimise impacts to federally protected migratory birds, bats and other wildlife, which it hopes to publish in January.

The agency is also finalising its guidance on eagle conservation, which could allow wind developers to apply for permits that would allow a certain number of accidental goldenand bald-eagle deaths. Critics say the guidelines should be mandatory, and eagle populations will be damaged.

Birds or bats and wind power often make headlines. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have both highlighted recent cases. In November, 484 migrating birds were found dead near AES Corporation's Laurel Mountain wind farm in West Virginia during a single week in October.

They died during a night of high winds, low cloud and cold temperatures, after being disoriented by lights on the electrical substation, a battery energy-storage unit and electrical switchyards. Such mass deaths are not unheard of at electrical facilities such as communication towers during similar weather conditions, said a source. An AES spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.