October 29, 2005

Birds vs. windmills battle heads to Calif. courts

By Carolyn Abate

San Francisco (Reuters) - The wind farm at Altamont Pass
produces clean electricity for tens of thousands of homes. The
windmills also kill a large number of migratory birds passing
through the region east of San Francisco.

Two environmental groups are going to court with the
ultimate aim of shutting down the farm for three months during
the migration season to help protect red-tail hawks, golden
eagles, and other raptors killed by the mills.

On Friday, the nonprofit group Californians for Renewable
Energy filed a suit in Alameda County Superior Court demanding
the county conduct an environmental impact report on the
windmills. CARE president Michael Boyd said on Saturday the
Golden Gate Audubon Society was filing a sister suit on Monday.

"The perception is it's environmentalist versus
environmentalist," Boyd said. "But it's environmentalists
versus the power cartel."

The nearly 6,000 windmills on the rolling hills of Altamont
Pass, 60 miles east of San Francisco, make up one of the
largest wind farms in the country.

The turbines generate enough electricity to power more than
120,000 homes. And more birds are killed in the region than at
any other wind farm in the country, according to the California
Energy Commission.

Earlier this year, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors
and the companies that operate the turbines agreed to shut down
50 percent of the turbines during prime migration season, set
to begin on Tuesday, and to shut 100 mills permanently as part
of a plan to protect the birds.

But Boyd said the plan did not go far enough and did not
have merit because it was drawn up without conducting an
environmental impact reporting required by the California
Environmental Quality Act.

Under the act, when a suit is filed, all parties involved
must sit down for a mandatory settlement conference. At that
time, Boyd said, CARE will ask for all turbines to be shut down
for three months during migration, and for 200 mills to be

"The Alameda County Board of Supervisors believes they are
exempt from CEQA because these turbines were built more than 20
years ago before they knew about the birds," he said.

A majority of the turbines are owned and operated by
Florida Power & Light, among other companies. Neither Alameda
County Board of Supervisors nor representatives from the
companies involved could be reached for comment.