Merrily Killing Birds

By Darius Baier

Green Energy or Avian Death Mills?

Illustration Credit: Tom Madsen

Thousands of birds are struck dead every year by the blades of wind turbines at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA), according to the Golden Gate Audubon Society (GGAS). The process of decommissioning old-generation wind turbines and replacing them with new, high-output models, is called repowering, and it could drastically reduce bird fatalities. New turbines can produce the same amount of electricity as old-generation turbines with fewer blades in the air, which means fewer dead birds.

Most companies are doing the necessary work to protect birds, but some are “dragging their feet… and going along merrily killing birds,” said Ilana DeBare of the GGAS in an email.

The bulk of the repowering was supposed to be completed by the end of 2015, according to Conditional Use Permits issued by Alameda County to companies operating windmills in the APWRA in 2005, but one company has avoided repowering.

Altamont Winds Inc., one of four wind companies operating in the Altamont Pass, received an extension from the Alameda County Board of Governors in March of 2015. They can now continue decimating federally protected Golden Eagles and other avian raptors until 2018. Thousands will die, according to documents filed by the GGAS with the Alameda County Board of Governors, but Altamont Winds Inc. contends that this extension is actually good for birds.

In a March 2015 letter to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Altamont Winds Inc. said that their wind turbines “reduce or offset greenhouse gases, particulates and toxic air pollutants that would otherwise occur” through alternate methods of energy production.

They estimate that this reduction in pollution will save 950 birds during the extension period. However, new-generation turbines would have the same positive environmental effects while also decreasing the number of birds dying in wind fields. The letter from Altamont Winds Inc. fails to address this.

With extended permits, Altamont Wind’s Inc. can continue “merrily killing birds” through 2018. After that, these dangerous windmills will be decommissioned, but they will not be thrown on the trash heap. Altamont Winds Inc., through a subsidiary called PowerWorks LLC., is selling old-generation turbines. A brochure notes that buying one of their wind turbines for your company “creates ‘green’ brand image.” It does not mention the dead birds.

PowerWorks LLC. has not replied to requests for comment.

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