Marten Law Group: Alternative Energy & ESA (Climate Change Feb 2008)

Marten Law Group: Alternative Energy & ESA (Climate Change Feb 2008)

As concern over global warming grows, more and more countries are exploring and investing in new sources of energy production such as solar, wind, tidal and wave power, and biofuels. Although the general consensus seems to be that turning to energy sources that reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be in a global sense better for endangered species, an examination of specific types of alternative energy sources demonstrates that each specific project must be reviewed on its own merits to determine whether it will impact endangered species. In this emerging issues commentary, Linda R. Larson, a partner at Marten Law Group, examines three types of renewable energy sources to illustrate the issues that such projects can pose to endangered species. The three sources are hydropower, the world's oldest source of renewable power; wind power, the fastest growing and possibly the lowest cost alternative energy generation technology in the world; and hydrokinetics (wave, current, and tidal power), the technology garnering the most interest. After describing how these technologies work, reviewing projects using each approach, and reporting on their respective impacts on various species, Ms. Larson concludes that "scale, project design, and an appropriate site are the key components for the construction and operation of alternative energy projects that mitigate or avoid adverse impacts on wildlife, including endangered species."
 
Ms. Larson writes: “In the early 1980s, three major wind farms were built in open grasslands and rolling hills in an area east of San Francisco. The Altamont Wind Pass Wind Resource Area (WRA) is the largest wind turbine development in the world, with over 7,000 small turbines in 1992. The WRA provides important foraging habitat for at least 13 species of resident and migrating hawks, eagles, and vultures. In response to concerns about avian mortality, the California Energy Commission (CEC) conducted six seasons of field work (from 1989 to 1991) within the WRA. The study found that 65% of dead birds found in the sample site were raptors. The most common species found were red-tailed hawks, followed by American kestrels and golden eagles. The study estimated that 39 golden eagles were killed each year. Deaths to turkey vultures and common ravens were less than their abundance in the area would have suggested. The study attributed 55% of all raptor deaths to collisions with turbines, 8% to electrocutions, 11% to collisions with wires, and 26% to unknown causes. It appeared that the golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and American kestrels were three to nine times more likely to be killed than turkey vultures due to species-specific foraging behavior and flight characteristics (flight height, distance of flying birds to turbines and turbine blades, and frequency of perching on turbine structures).The issue of whether the Altamont Pass wind farms result in unacceptable avian mortality has continued to be controversial and continuing studies suggest mitigation efforts have had only limited success in reducing avian mortality. The companies operating the wind farms have been the target of litigation by the Center and the Golden Gate Audubon Society. In January 2007, the Board of Supervisors of Alameda County approved a settlement between the Audubon Society and the four companies operating the oldest turbines at Altamont Pass that required the companies to reduce the number of raptor deaths by half in three years by removing old turbines and replacing them with fewer, more powerful ones, a process known as ’repowering.’ The companies also agreed to shut down all of their turbines in November and December.

Current wind turbine technology offers solid tubular towers to prevent birds from perching on them. Turbine blades also rotate more slowly than those of earlier designs, reducing potential for collisions with birds. Full repowering is estimated to cost $1 billion, so the settlement agreement focused on finding a balance between wind and birds. However, in January 2008, the Scientific Review Committee monitoring the settlement announced that the efforts to reduce mortality were not on track to meet the 50% goal and issued a list of 309 targeted turbines that should be removed or relocated, plus 102 more if the companies refuse to continue a temporary shut down of all their turbines into February.
 
In September 2007, the CEC approved the voluntary California Guidelines for Reducing Impacts to Birds and Bats from Wind Energy Development ("the Guidelines"). Working with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), the CEC developed the Guidelines to provide recommendations on methods to assess bird and bat activity at proposed wind energy sites; design pre-permitting and operations monitoring plans; and develop impact avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures. The CEC does not have siting authority over wind projects, but the Commission hoped that standardized guidelines might be voluntarily accepted by developers while informing local permitting decisions. The CEC also endorses repowering at all existing sites, contending that new designs for turbines and proper siting could reduce avian mortality by up to 85 percent.”
 
To read the full commentary on lexis.com, click on the link below: