Wind Energy news
A wind farm company with out-of-date turbines that wildlife biologists blame for the deaths of scores of raptors on the Altamont Pass has agreed after years of squawking from environmentalists and regulators to replace the bird-killing blades.Altamont Winds Inc. closed down its turbines for the season, and wrote in a letter to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that it had decided to “permanently shut down and cease operations” of all 828 of the power generators. The Tracy company has applied with Alameda County for a permit to replace the old equipment with 33 larger, state-of-the-art turbines that kill far fewer birds.“The reduction of avian impacts was a primary factor that influenced our decision to discontinue operating our Altamont wind farms,” wrote Bill Damon, vice president of Altamont Winds.The move was touted by environmental organizations as a big victory in the battle to protect golden eagles, other raptors, birds and bats, thousands of which are pulverized every year by the spinning blades that are visible to drivers in the hills between Tracy and Livermore.Declaring victory“It is a victory because this company is probably the most egregious actor in the Altamont,” said Cindy Margulis, the executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, who said 67 golden eagles were killed by Altamont Winds turbines between 2004 and 2014. “We’re thrilled they are going to stop running the old turbines and that those turbines won’t be killing birds anymore.”All wind farm operations on the Altamont are required to shut down operations between Nov. 1 and Feb. 15 as part of a 2007 settlement agreement with the Audubon Society in an attempt to reduce the death toll.Rick Koebbe, president of the company, did not return phone calls. The East County Board of Zoning Adjustments is expected to decide Nov. 19 whether to approve the company’s replacement plan.Altamont Pass, just east of Livermore, is both the birthplace of the modern wind power movement and the deadliest spot in the United States for eagles and other birds, according to wildlife biologists.The wind turbines, which spin on many different parcels and are owned by a variety of companies, were first built in the wake of the energy crisis in the 1970s. At their peak, there were nearly 6,000 turbines in operation. The machines, the tips of which reach speeds of 179 mph, killed about 10,000 birds, including 2,000 raptors, every year.Unusual adversariesThe pass now contains about 3,000 turbines — representing about a third of California’s wind power and producing enough power to light San Francisco. It has been the epicenter of a long-running battle between two green movements that make for unusual adversaries — renewable energy and wildlife conservation.“It’s all about trying to strike that balance,” said Sandra Rivera, the assistant planning director for the Alameda County Planning Department.The number of eagles killed by windmills is decidedly out of balance, according to wildlife advocates. Researchers say the problem is that eagles are so intent on finding prey, and are so programmed by evolution, that they simply cannot see the spinning blades.But eagles aren’t the only flying predators that get nailed by windmills. Burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels and bats are also killed. The problem is particularly acute during the winter, when huge numbers of birds migrate to the area. About 35 golden eagles are killed annually in the Altamont Pass, which has one of the densest nesting populations of big raptors in the world.Greater efficiencyThe new turbines stand as tall as 430 feet and produce as much energy as 23 of the old ones, which were lower to the ground. Where they are installed within the contours of the hills is also important, and a team of researchers has been working on a chart that wind farm operators can use to better position their turbines to avoid raptor flight paths.The safety measures appear to be working. A recent study suggests that the number of raptors killed at Altamont each year has fallen about 50 percent since 2005. In 2014, bird mortality in general decreased by 25 to 40 percent, biologists say.But the 828 turbines operated by Altamont Winds were between 30 and 40 years old, making them less efficient power generators and more efficient bird killers. The Fish and Wildlife Service said 31 golden eagles have been killed by the company’s turbines since 2010.‘The sooner … the better’Still, the company got permission from the county in 2005 to continue operating its turbines in the Altamont until 2015, as long as they began replacing them. And despite heavy opposition, including from county staff, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors this spring extended the company’s deadline, this time until 2018.With Altamont Winds’ new application, Rivera said, all the current operators in Altamont have either replaced their old equipment or have submitted applications for repowering projects. Once the old turbines are remove
The incoming chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee says working to renew a slew of expired tax breaks, including the production tax credit (PTC), will be one of his first priorities when he takes office.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is slated to take over the powerful role for former Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who was recently confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to China. On Feb. 11, Wyden told reporters, “My sense is that the focus at the outset is likely to be the extender package.”
The so-called extender package includes over 50 tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013, one of which was the PTC. Keith Martin, a partner at law firm Chadbourne & Parke, tells NAW that it’s likely that the package will get passed but not until the last half of this year.
“Wyden is replacing the senior staff on the Senate Finance Committee. It will take time for them to settle in,” he says.
In addition, Martin expects U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will avoid presenting the extender as stand-alone legislation.
“He usually needs something to propel such a bill forward, like doing it in the context of budget reconciliation where special rules limit debate or as a rider to some other must-pass legislation or because Congress is at the end of the session and eager to get home,” Martin explains.
He also warns that outside opposition to a PTC extension for wind is better organized “than ever before,” and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will likely follow suit and stand against the tax incentive. Nonetheless, Martin believes the extenders will eventually pass after both houses of Congress negotiate.
Furthermore, he bets the construction-start deadline for the PTC will be extended for at least a year and suggests, “Companies should start planning how to incur at least five percent of the cost of more projects this year and be ready to pull the trigger when the extenders pass.”
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