Wind energy is known to be environmentally friendly, except for one persistent concern: The spinning turbine blades often kill birds, especially raptors such as eagles.
Now, a wind energy project in Solano County may become the first in the United States to commit to protecting golden eagles under federal law. To make amends for the golden eagles likely to be killed by its turbine blades, the 100-megawatt project near Rio Vista, known as Shiloh IV, would agree to modify power lines in Monterey County to prevent golden eagles from being electrocuted.
The proposal is contained in a draft conservation plan released Thursday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is charged with protecting eagles and other migratory birds. The proposal is open to a 45-day public comment period, with adoption expected early in 2014.
It really does set a precedent in that it does show the service can work with the wind industry, said Eric Davis, assistant regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Renewable energy is here to stay, and we need to ensure eagles and other wildlife are here to stay as well.
Such an agreement has never been adopted for a wind project before because it is not required under federal law. Although wind energy across the nation kills dozens of golden eagles annually, the bird is not protected by the Endangered Species Act, which would require a conservation plan.
Instead, the Fish and Wildlife Service is acting under a relatively recent federal law, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, adopted in 2007. The law allows the service to issue so-called take permits that allow a developer to kill eagles in return for specific actions to benefit the species.
The law does not require developers to prepare conservation plans or obtain take permits. In fact, none has been issued before to any development project. But under the law, if a wind energy project is proved to have killed eagles, a company that has not sought a permit could be subject to criminal prosecution, resulting in fines and penalties.
While there have been no prosecutions yet, its not a fair statement to say nothing is happening, said Davis. Investigations have been conducted on several of these take incidents ... and that activity is ongoing.
Shiloh IV Wind Project LLC is a subsidiary of EDF Renewable Development Inc., based in San Diego. Rick Miller, director of wind business development for the companys West region, said in a statement he hopes the plan results in no net loss of golden eagles.
Our company pursued the permit based on our responsible development practices, Miller said, to minimize environmental impacts while generating zero-emissions energy.
The company, the largest wind-energy operator in the Montezuma Hills region near Rio Vista, initially submitted a broader bird and bat protection plan to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011. The agency later persuaded the company to prepare a separate plan to protect golden eagles.
Garry George, renewable energy director at California Audubon, said more golden eagles are killed by wind turbines in California than any other state. He praised the emergence of the first conservation plan to address the problem.
Its like a giant step forward by the service, and this developer is actually addressing the mortality of eagles in California, George said.