By Robert Bradley Jr. — February 8, 2022
“Altamont Pass has been a black eye on the entire wind industry since its construction.” (National Audubon Society, below)
“… the need for renewable energy is not an excuse to … wipe out local populations of wildlife. Wind companies are making billions and can afford to ensure projects are responsibly sited and include adequate mitigations to reduce impacts to sensitive species.” (Ariana Rickard, Mount Diablo Audubon Society, below)
Altamont Pass again? Back in 1997, my Policy Analysis for the Cato Institute, “Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’,” included a section, “The ‘Avian Mortality’ Problem,” that focused on Altamont Pass, then the nation’s largest wind farm and a documented killing field for protected birds.
That 625-MW project was just a short car ride away from the San Francisco headquarters of the Natural Resources Defense Council. But NRDC did not care—that industrial wind complex was the centerpiece of the alternative to fossil-fuel-fired electricity. Neither did the Sierra Club, whose Las Angeles chapter coined the term for industrial wind turbines, “the Cuisinarts of the Air.”
As I documented in the Cato study a quarter-century ago:
- The National Audubon Society called for a moratorium on new wind farms until the bird-kill problem was solved.
- The bird kills at Altamont Pass was a federal crime under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; killing bald eagles is also a crime under the Bald Eagle Protection Act.
- “So intense has the windmill ‘avian mortality issue’ become in wind and wildlife circles, some fear for their jobs if they speak out; others fear for their research dollars, while the companies fear for their futures.”
Fast forward to today. A November 17, 2021, press release stated:
The National Audubon Society, Ohlone Audubon Society, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Mount Diablo Audubon Society, and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society today filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court to challenge Alameda County’s approval of a new, 80-megawatt wind turbine facility at Altamont Pass, arguing that the project lacked sufficient environmental review and failed to adequately assess and avoid impacts to birds and bats. The lawsuit marks the first time that the National Audubon Society has sued to prevent approval of a wind project in California.
“Audubon supports responsibly developed wind projects and works collaboratively with wind developers that are authentically interested in avoiding impacts to birds, but we have been forced to file this lawsuit because Alameda County has broken its commitments and failed to protect birds and bats in the Altamont Pass for forty years,” said Mike Lynes, California state policy director for the National Audubon Society. “Alameda County approved a poorly planned project that they know will kill Golden Eagles and other birds in violation of state and federal laws and that will contribute to the continuing declines of Golden Eagles and other sensitive species.”
The press release continues:
The Altamont Pass is home to the densest nesting population of Golden Eagles in the world, as well as important populations of Western Burrowing Owls, Red-Tailed Hawks, Tricolored Blackbirds, other migratory birds and several species of bats. The area is also home to the largest wind resource area in the United States, where 5000 turbines were built over a 56-square-mile area in the early 1980s without any environmental mitigation. For decades, the Altamont Pass has killed so many Golden Eagles that it is a “population sink” for the species and is contributing to its overall decline in the region.
Negotiations with the Altamont owners and local authorities were unsuccessful:
Supervisors gave final approval to the project at Mulqueeny Ranch on October 7, denying an appeal by National Audubon and the Ohlone, Golden Gate, Mount Diablo and Santa Clara Audubon Societies. In the appeal, Audubon also urged the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to convene their independent Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of experts before their final decision to hear its recommendations on how the project could be modified to reduce impacts to birds. But the developer, Brookfield Renewables, LLC, objected to the independent review and County staff refused to convene the TAC prior to the board hearing.
The legal experience of Audubon groups with authorities (and silent, shameful Big Environmentalism) has been disappointing:
“Fifteen years ago, Alameda County and the wind companies settled a lawsuit with the Audubon chapters and committed to reduce bird deaths by 50% by 2009. With the approval of this project, the County is putting the Altamont Pass back on pace to kill as many Golden Eagles as it did 15 years ago,” said Glenn Phillips, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. “Despite admitting they haven’t reduced bird deaths by 50%, the County wouldn’t even convene that their Technical Advisory Committee to receive recommendations before making a final decision. Instead, the County relied entirely on advice from Brookfield’s environmental consultant.”
“People in Alameda County want to see responsibly-sited renewable energy, but we’re tired of the county breaking its promises to protect wildlife and doing whatever the wind developers want,” said William Hoppe, Chair of Ohlone Audubon Society Board of Directors. “It’s time for some balance, where Alameda County listens to wildlife experts to ensure that wind projects avoid and reduce harms to birds and bats to the fullest extent possible.”
Climate change policy is no excuse, the press release continues. The law is the law, and carnage is carnage.
“We at Audubon understand better than anyone that climate change presents an existential threat to people and birds, and responsible renewable energy development is essential to transitioning from fossil fuels. But the need for renewable energy is not an excuse to … wipe out local populations of wildlife,” said Ariana Rickard, Vice-President of the Mount Diablo Audubon Society. “Wind companies are making billions and can afford to ensure projects are responsibly sited and include adequate mitigations to reduce impacts to sensitive species.”
The environmental game is rigged in favor of wind cronies and against existing protections for wildlife, which environmentalists passed in the first place. The press release ends:
“Alameda County and Brookfield refused to adopt the science-based recommendations of top experts from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife that would have reduced harm to birds and still left Brookfield with a viable project,” said Matthew Dodder, Executive Director of Santa Clara Valley Audubon. “We are only asking that Alameda County fulfill its promises to conduct objective, science-based reviews of projects and ensure that they are properly sized, sited, and mitigated to minimize harm to birds and bats.”
Stay tuned for developments in The National Audubon Society vs. County of Alameda.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.