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Altamont Wind Plants Sued for Failing to Prevent Bird Deaths
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a non-profit environmental organization, filed a federal lawsuit on January 12th against FPL Group, Inc. and NEG Micon A/S, claiming that the two companies have violated state and federal laws by allowing birds to be killed at their wind power facilities in California's Altamont Pass. The two companies and their subsidiaries own or operate roughly half of the 5,400 wind turbines in the Altamont Wind Energy Resource Area (AWERA), an area known for its high rate of bird deaths. The area is particularly problematic because of the large number of golden eagles in the area, some of which are killed each year. CBD claims the wind power companies at AWERA have failed to implement effective mitigation strategies to reduce bird kills in the area. "The issue at Altamont is not wind power versus birds," says CBD, "but rather whether the wind power industry is willing to take simple steps to reduce bird kills." See the CBD press release.
Wind turbines' interactions with birds have long been of concern to the wind power industry, in fact, the issue was one of the drivers for forming the National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) in 1994. In 1999, the NWCC Wildlife Working Group produced "Studying Wind Energy/Bird Interactions: A Guidance Document," a comprehensive guide for determining or monitoring potential impacts on birds at proposed and existing wind energy sites. The Wildlife Working Group has also facilitated four National Avian-Wind Power Planning Workshops to define needed research and explore current issues. See the latest publications and activities of the Wildlife Working Group on the NWCC Web site.
A study prepared for the NWCC in 2001, called "Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines," found that wind power facilities kill 10–40 thousand birds each year. To place that in context, the study also found that vehicles kill 60–80 million birds per year, and buildings and windows kill 98–980 million birds per year. See the study (PDF 2.78 MB). Download Acrobat Reader.
A fact sheet on bird deaths from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) notes that avian mortality is low at most wind power sites, but acknowledges that Altamont Pass remains a concern because of the deaths of golden eagles there. The fact sheet also notes that other energy sources also have adverse effects on birds. See the AWEA fact sheet (PDF 126 KB).