Pine Tree Wind Farm Generating a Storm

Posted by ardeidae on March 17, 2005

The Pine Tree Wind Farm is a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power project to deliver green power to 120,000 homes. It sounds like a good idea, but it’s been met with criticism from environmentalists who feel that the DWP hasn’t done enough research in developing its environmental impact report (EIR). Groups such as the Los Angeles Audubon Society are concerned that the study lacks information on migratory songbirds.

There hasn’t been anything in the press about this until now. Ground-breaking time is coming up in June, and this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. The LA Weekly recently published an article that helps explain the criticism.

“It’s a prime location on the north-south migration pattern every fall and spring,” says Garry George, first vice president and conservation chair of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Audubon Society.

The EIR published in July 2004 acknowleged potential harm to Red-tailed Hawks, but George says they left out vital research on migratory songbirds.

“They visited only one time and only for an hour during the birds’ peak migration period, which is April 15th to May 30th,” George says. “How could they conclude it wasn’t harmful to songbirds if they weren’t there when most birds come through?”

The DWP is in the process of publishing a revised EIR, but will it satisfy environmentalists?

Local Audubon groups have offered to pay for a thorough study of the Pine Tree region’s songbirds, says George, “and if they’d revise the EIR according to the study, then we could talk about mitigation measures.” Instead, the DWP has promised to do its own study and include its findings in its revised EIR.

City officials and DWP are under political pressure to make Pine Tree Wind Farm happen, but it’s important not to repeat mistakes made by others.

Bird enthusiasts have found little comfort in the histories of other California wind farms, such as the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in eastern Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. In addition to killing anywhere from 800 to 1,200 birds of prey a year, including the protected golden eagle, Altamont’s mills also chew up some 3,000 meadowlarks and nearly 400 burrowing owls. The Center for Biological Diversity has filed suit against several companies managing the wind farm alleging unfair business practices (Wind Turbine Prometheus, which will develop Pine Tree with General Electric turbines, is not among them). Even the California Energy Company has recommended retiring the facility’s most lethal turbines.

“Wind turbine owners are not doing enough to mitigate bird and bat mortality,” says K. Shawn Smallwood, an independent ecologist specializing in minimizing bird kills on wind farms who worked on the Pine Tree draft EIR. “What the wind industry is doing right now is denying there’s a problem,” he says. “That’s too bad, because there’s a way to make wind power truly green. They just won’t do it.”

The rumored vote on the revised EIR is April 19, but George isn’t so sure this report will be complete.

“If it’s really a new EIR, it can’t possibly address the migratory period, because it hasn’t happened yet.”

March 19, 2004: In addition to the corrections Garry George left in the comments section of this post yesterday, I also received this email later in the day:

“It turns out that the EIR is not being revised. I spoke to DWP today. Their corporate spokesperson said the wrong thing, and now is denying she said that. The truth is they are still writing responses to the comments and putting forth the final EIR for a vote at DWP Board of Commissioners which they hope will be April 19.

So that information is wrong and the EIR is not being revised, and the vote is still going forward for April 19.  Under CEQA they have to get the EIR with reply to comments to us by April 9.”

I’d like to make one important correction to Judith Lewis’ fine article on the DWP Pine Tree wind farm in which I am quoted.  We aren’t defenders of the HUNDREDS of songbirds that fly through that location during migration. We are defenders of the MILLIONS of tiny songbirds that fly through that location during migration, a figure that even DWP’s hired biologist Dr. Michael Morrison can’t refute. Our own members have seen up to 6,000 birds in one day in one small location there on field trips. We just don’t know exactly how many there are, when they fly (some at night), how high they fly, or exactly what path they use because there has not been a study. We feel it is DWP’s responsibility as lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act to conduct that study before they conclude that there is no significant risk to avian populations, rush to put up turbines, and try to conduct fatality studies on tiny puffs of feathers.

Garry George
1st VP, Conservation Chair
Los Angeles Audubon Society

Posted by Garry George  on  03/18  at  12:33 PM

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