The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has announced it will issue an eagle take permit, the first of its kind, to EDF Renewable Energy for an operating wind farm in California.
Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the FWS has the authority to issue such permits to entities whose otherwise-lawful activities may result in the ‘take’ (i.e., injury, death or other disturbance) of eagles that is unintentional and incidental. Wind energy companies are not required to have an eagle take permit, and EDF's will represent the first permit granted; however, the FWS says companies operating without one risk federal penalties, including criminal prosecution, for any unauthorized take of eagles.
The FWS plans to grant EDF a five-year permit for the 102.5 MW Shiloh IV wind farm, located in Solano County. The permit will allow the take of up to five golden eagles over the five-year period and requires EDF to engage in an array of conservation measures.
"The Shiloh IV eagle permit sets a precedent for proactive and collaborative eagle conservation at wind farms in northern California and beyond, and we commend EDF Renewable Energy for taking this critical step," says FWS Director Dan Ashe in a statement.
"We encourage other wind-power developers in the region to follow this model to reduce overall eagle mortality at wind farms while reducing their risk of prosecution for the take of eagles, particularly as they repower their developments with newer turbines," he continues. "We can't solve the problem of eagle mortality at wind farms overnight, but this commonsense solution merits the support of all who advocate for the long-term conservation of eagles."
Rick Miller, director of wind business development at EDF Renewable Energy, tells NAW the developer has long collaborated with the FWS and environmental stakeholders at the Shiloh IV wind farm. Originally installed in 1989 with a capacity of 25 MW, Shiloh IV was successfully repowered using REpower MM92 2.05 MW turbines at the end of 2012.
"Our company pursued the permit based on our responsible development practices to avoid and minimize environmental impacts while generating zero-emissions energy," says Miller. "We are proud of our leadership position. Being the first permit issued, the process wasn't always the smoothest, but in the end, we believe that wind turbines and eagles can co-exist – so the journey was worthwhile."
In December 2013, the FWS issued a controversial ruling allowing for 30-year eagle take permits, but Miller notes that when EDF started its application process in 2011, the five-year permit was the only available option.
"Given our experience in the Montezuma Hills area and thorough understanding of the avian characteristics, we believe the risk for impact is minimal and that the five-year timeframe is acceptable," he says.
Nonetheless, he adds that EDF is in favor of a longer permit timeframe for wind developers. ‘It is important for the long-term success of renewable energy projects to have certainty in the environmental regulations and permit requirements," he says.
The FWS' decision to offer 30-year eagle take permits has resulted in some backlash. On June 19, the American Bird Conservancy filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Department of the Interior, charging the new eagle take rule violates multiple federal laws.