OAKLAND -- Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced an agreement to upgrade the quarter-century-old wind turbines in Altamont Pass to make them more efficient and less deadly to migratory birds.
“This landmark settlement mandates the replacement of outmoded wind turbines with newer models that are more efficient, generate more power and are less harmful to eagles, falcons and other birds,” Brown said.
The Altamont Pass Wind Resources Area in Alameda and Contra Costa counties is the site of the world’s first wind turbines. These units, constructed more than three decades ago, are now outdated, inefficient and deadly to thousands of birds each year.
Today’s settlement is between environmental groups, the state, and NextEra Energy Resources, the largest turbine operator at the site. Under the agreement, NextEra will upgrade all its older-model turbines. Scientific data shows that newer, larger turbines are more efficient and kill far fewer birds.
A 2004 study commissioned by the California Energy Commission found that the 5,400 older turbines operating at Altamont Pass killed an estimated 1,766 to 4,271 birds annually, including between 881 and 1330 raptors such as golden eagles -- which are protected under federal law -- hawks, falcons and owls. The bird fatalities at Altamont Pass -- an important raptor breeding area that lies on a major migratory route -- are greater than on any other wind farm in the country.
In September 2005, Alameda County renewed permits for the turbines, but several Audubon Society chapters and Californians for Renewable Energy (CARE), a local environmental group, challenged the permits in a lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
After a settlement failed to substantially reduce the large number of bird fatalities, Brown stepped in and brokered today’s agreement.
Under the agreement, NextEra will replace some 2,400 turbines over the next four years and will shut down all its existing turbines no later than 2015. The company also has agreed to erect the new turbines in environmentally friendly locations.
NextEra agreed to pay $2.5 million in mitigation fees, half to the state Energy Commission’s Public Integrated Energy Research Program and half to East Bay Regional Park District and the Livermore Area Regional Park District for raptor habitat creation.
A copy of the agreement is attached.