Another estimate for eagle casualties in Altamont Pass

Estimated avian mortality in 2005 at Altamont Pass:

Two or three dozen golden eagles. Two hundred red-tail hawks.

Per year.

Let me extend that out – a couple dozen golden eagles and hundreds of hawks…

Every year.

For 4 decades.

A study published in 2005 estimated the raptor casualties in the Altamont Pass slice-and-dice operation. I’ve looked around for the study. It appears to be in a paywall site. Found multiple references to the study and one good summary.

The Sierra Club Yodeler has a good article discussing the casualty counts and mitigation efforts. The article advocates for study before putting turbines in place that will be in operation for several decades: Bird deaths and the lessons for wind power of Altamont Pass.

The citation in the article also provides a high-level summary. A fair-use quote is:

In Bird Mortality at the Altamont Pass Wind Power Resource Area (NREL/SR-500-36973, August 2005), K. Shawn Smallwood and Carl G. Thelander estimated that 570 – 835 raptors are killed in the pass annually, including 28 – 34 golden eagles, 196 – 237 red-tailed hawks, 54 – 136 American kestrels, and 181 – 457 burrowing owls.

I’m catching up on the whole issue of the destruction caused by wind farms and allowed by state and federal governments. The four mentioned raptors, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, American krestels, and burrowing owls, are all protected under federal law. “Taking” without permits earns you serious penalties. “Takings” of eagles are not allowed at all.

The Sierra Club article also explains that between the time of the study (published 2005) and the article (2009), avian mortality (that means slice-and-dice casualties) decreased for golden eagles but increased for other species.

The article says one of the mitigation plans for Altamont Pass is idling the entire operation for 3 months during the winter. This means that conventional power plant capacity has to be in place permanently so it can operate during the winter to replace electricity provided by the turbines.  Facilities with that capacity sit idle the rest of the year.  Just to be clear, there won’t be any reduction in conventional plant capacity at all and there won’t be any reduction in fossil fuel usage for one-quarter of the year.

I’m not sure if the 3.5 month idling ever went into effect or whether it is in place today. Like I said, my knowledge is small but increasing.

An 11-5-13 letter to the editor in the WSJ pointed me to this research. The letter also points out that turbines kill large volumes of bats, which has adverse implications for farming and thus human health.

Update 11-11 – The study can be found on this page. The PDF is available here.  The methodology is described but is beyond me. I’m also not sure how to interpret the data on mortality.  The study covered the timeframe of May ’98 through May ’03.

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