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Not accountable for past deaths

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California wind operators in Altamont Pass received some good news recently when a court ruled that they do not have to pay for past bird deaths attributed to wind turbines. The ruling is part of an ongoing battle between environmentalists and wind operators over bird deaths in the region.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald M Sabraw's ruling covers the estimated thousands of birds, particularly raptors, which have been killed in Altamont Pass wind farms. The ruling, however, held open the possibility that future bird deaths may be subject to court sanctions, including fines and shutting down problem turbines. Moreover, the lawsuit filed against wind farm owners by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is still proceeding through the courts on the grounds that wind operators may be receiving an unfair competitive advantage because laws protecting birds of prey are not being enforced.

The CBD can still amend its lawsuit to ask the court to require wind operators to deal with the problem of bird deaths. 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.

Unrelated to the lawsuit, the CBD has asked local officials to require wind projects to shut down or relocate individual turbines to alleviate the problem. Those officials are reviewing permits for about 3600 of the more than 5200 turbines in the Altamont Pass area to determine whether shutdown or relocation might be required. Wind operators have said they are willing to do both, including idling half the turbines in Altamont Pass for up to four months a year, relocating 100 turbines, and updating towers and overhead lines. Combined, these measures could cut bird deaths by an estimated 35%, but the CBD is seeking even more aggressive steps.

The Altamont Pass wind farms have a combined capacity of 542 MW, one quarter of the 2114 MW currently installed in California.

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