NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 19, 2008

A January 2007 settlement agreement intended to reduce the number of bird deaths from wind turbines at Altamont Pass, California is failing, says H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The toll has been devastating at Altamont Pass:

  • In the lawsuit, environmentalists cited a 2004 California Energy Commission report estimating between 1,766 and 4,721 birds were killed by Altamont wind turbines each year, equaling 47,682 to 127,467 birds over the 27-year life of the wind farm.
  • The Audubon Society, a party to the lawsuit settled last year, noted among the birds deaths are between 456 and 1,129 raptors killed each year, including 75 to 116 golden eagles killed annually.
  • In December 2007, scientist reported that the thousands of wind turbines at Altamont Pass are killing raptors and other birds at approximately the same pace as before the settlement.

As a result, environmental groups are calling for additional restrictions on wind power generation, says Burnett.  Elizabeth Murdock, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, one of four Audubon chapters party to the settlement agreement, says the present array of wind turbines at Altamont Pass is taking an unacceptable toll on migratory and protected bird species.

The bird death issue is complicated by the fact that commercially viable wind farms must be situated in areas where the wind blows as frequently and steadily as possible, says Burnett.  These locations tend also to be major flyways for raptors and migratory birds.  Even worse, the farms can actually lure birds to their grisly deaths.  Rats, mice and other rodents utilize turbine bases as nesting grounds, which in turn attracts birds of prey.  When the birds of prey circle above their intended meal, they are sliced to death in midair by the spinning turbine blades.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, "Altamont Pass Settlement Fails to Reduce Bird Kills," Heartland Institute, March 1, 2008.


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