(CNSNews.com) – A wind farm in the Montezuma Hills region of Northern California is seeking a permit to legally kill up to five golden eagles over the next five years even though the raptors are currently protected under federal law and an international migratory bird treaty.
Noting that “the project contributes to California’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard goals,” the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has recommended a five-year permit with additional mitigation and monitoring efforts, including the purchase of “conservation credits in an approved mitigation bank.”
Due to the government shutdown last month, the public comment period on the permit has been extended to Nov. 12th.
If approved, the 3,500-acre Shiloh IV Wind Project in Solano County, which is owned by EDF Renewable Energy, would receive the nation’s first “eagle take permit” allowing the project’s 50 two-megawatt wind turbines to legally kill the birds of prey without penalty. An estimated 315 birds and 258 bats will be killed by each turbine per year, according to the project’s Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA). (See Shiloh DEA.pdf)
Earlier this year, a similar wind farm in Nevada faced a $200,000 fine for killing a single golden eagle without a take permit.
The Migratory Birds Treaty and the Bald & Golden Eagle Protection Act forbid the killing of even one of the estimated 527 golden eagles that live within 140 miles of the project area. “Wind facilities are believed to be one of the currently leading causes of mortality,” according to the DEA.
According to a new FWS study published in September in the Journal of Raptor Research, eagle deaths have spiked in recent years, with wind farms killing “at least 85 eagles” in 10 states between 1997 and 2012.
Seventy-nine of the fatalities were golden eagles who inadvertently flew into spinning turbine blades. One was electrocuted by a high-power line.
However, the study, which “excluded 17 eagle deaths for which there was ‘not enough evidence’,” warned that due to the lack of monitoring and voluntary reporting by wind-energy companies, that figure “substantially underestimates” total eagle mortality from wind turbines.
The DEA determined that nesting adult eagles and their offspring found within 10 miles of the wind farm “are at risk from project operations.” Although EDF replaced 230 of its 1980s –era wind turbines with 50 newer ones, FWS noted that the risk to eagles has actually “increased because of the larger size of the turbine blades.”
Golden eagles, one of the largest raptors in North America, are particularly vulnerable to wind turbines because they tend to look down for prey while they are in flight.
A recent FWS estimate put the total population of golden eagles at 20,722. A 2009 analysis of the golden eagle populations in the Shiloh IV area found that it “might not be able to sustain any additional unmitigated mortality, and set the thresholds for this species at zero,”and any authorized killing must be offset by “compensatory mitigation” efforts.
EDF Renewable Energy, which has a number of wind, solar and biomass projects throughout the country, signed a purchase agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) to provide wind-powered electricity to the utility over the next 25 years. A mandate passed by the California legislature requires that 33 percent of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 allow a 2.3-cent per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for wind projects such as Shiloh IV. According to the DOE, the federal government spent $9.7 billion on 24,711 renewable energy projects, with 79 percent going to wind energy projects.