California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. 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.
The turbines were constructed in the Altamont Pass Wind Resources Area in Alameda and Contra Costa counties more than three decades ago.
A settlement was reached between environmental groups, the State of California and NextEra Energy Resources, the largest turbine operator at the site. Under the agreement, NextEra will upgrade all of its older-model turbines. Scientific data show 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.
In September 2005, Alameda County renewed permits for the turbines, but several Audubon Society chapters and the Californians for Renewable Energy group challenged the permits in a lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act.
After a settlement failed to substantially reduce the large number of bird fatalities, an agreement was brokered by Brown.
Under the agreement, NextEra will replace approximately 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 the East Bay Regional Park District and the Livermore Area Regional Park District for raptor habitat creation.