Killing birds for power

A US-based environmental organisation has filed a lawsuit against the FPL Group and Danish wind power company NEG Micon for their part in the ‘illegal killing of tens of thousands of protected birds’ by wind turbines.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a US-based nonprofit environmental organisation dedicated to the protection of native species and their habitats, filed a lawsuit yesterday against Florida energy producer FPL Group and Danish wind power company NEG Micon A/S for their part in the ‘illegal ongoing killing of tens of thousands of protected birds’ by wind turbines at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) in the San Francisco Bay Area of California.

Through their subsidiaries and associated entities, FPL Group and NEG Micon own or operate roughly half of the approximately 5,400 wind turbines at the APWRA. The CBD claims that, each year, wind turbines at the APWRA kill up to 60 or more golden eagles and hundreds of other hawks, owls, and other protected raptors. These bird kills, it says, have continued for 20 years in flagrant violation of the US Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and several California Fish and Game Code provisions.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco, CA was brought under California’s Unfair Competition Law (California Business and Professions Code section 17200), which prohibits businesses from violating federal and state wildlife protection laws, in the course of their business activities. The lawsuit also alleges that FPL has violated California’s false advertising laws and the US Federal Lanham Act by making untrue or misleading statements in publicly asserting that it complies with all federal and state environmental laws.

‘Altamont Pass wind turbines are causing extremely high levels of bird mortality along a major raptor migration route and are likely depleting eagle, hawk, and owl populations not only locally but throughout the western US,’ said Jeff Miller, spokesperson for CBD.

‘We absolutely support wind power, but it is past time for the primary turbine owners, FPL Energy and NEG Micon, to address this problem.’

‘Altamont Pass has become a death zone for eagles and other magnificent and imperilled birds of prey. Recent studies have proposed numerous recommendations for mitigating the devastating effect of Altamont Pass wind turbines on birds, yet the industry is blindly charging ahead replacing existing turbines with new and much larger turbines without any requirement of effective preventative measures or remediation for ongoing bird kills,’ said Richard Wiebe, attorney for the plaintiffs.

The APWRA was established in 1982 on 160 square kilometres of private cattle ranches in eastern Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

Raptor experts have suggested numerous measures to reduce bird deaths, including retiring particularly lethal turbines, relocating turbines out of canyons, moving isolated turbines into clusters, increasing the visibility of turbines to birds, retrofitting power poles to prevent bird electrocutions, discontinuing the rodent poisoning program, and managing grazing to encourage rodent prey away from turbines.

Raptor experts have also suggested mitigation through raptor habitat preservation to maintain the stability of the bird populations that are being depleted.