Letter from our Vice President, USA

Young golden eagle

To:                                                                                                                                                                              

Cedric Perry, BLM Project Manager
California Desert District
October 4, 2011

 

RE:  Ocotillo Draft EIS/EIR

 

Dear Mr Perry:

 

 

I have read over the Ocotillo Draft EIR/EIS and supplemental documents (“the EIR”). As an expert on birds of prey, I can testify that the EIR does not fulfill the State’s requirements to fully disclose the expected impacts of the windfarm project on birds and bats. I found the EIR to be a lengthy collection of observations and information written with deliberate vagueness. In my opinion its main achievement is to provide a list of avian and bat species that will be killed, and to show how access to this information will be controlled. Regarding impacts on sensitive wildlife species considered cumulatively with other windfarms built or projected in the State, the EIR does not even mention them.

 

I have many reservations about the EIR, but will only discuss some of the major issues. For example, it doesn’t provide any useful information about the Golden Eagle, a threatened species whose conservation status is obsolete, dating back 10 years. The authors measure the eagles to be impacted by the Ocotillo project against outdated, irrelevant, and vague San Diego county population data. The reason given is: “We are not aware of golden eagle population data from Imperial County” (which is where the project is located).  Most importantly, they fail to point out that the project site lies in some of the best habitat available to the golden eagle in this entire desert region. Thus, without any information about the bird’s population for the entire 4284 square miles of Imperial County, it is not possible to assess the importance of the project area to the eagles. My estimate is that the eagles at risk because they live within 15 km of the proposed wind turbines represent 25-30% of the golden eagles living in Imperial County. This is very significant.

 

The EIR states “The golden eagle population appears to be declining”. There is some truth in this statement and a little bit of truth in the reasons given for this decline. But there is also a serious omission: the main reason for the Golden Eagle’s rapid decline is the proliferation of wind farms in California and beyond over the last 30 years. Yet not a single word about this impact is mentioned in the EIR.

 

There is a great deal of cover up going on about the decline of the golden eagle population in California. If one looks at the Altamont Pass wind farms, it was claimed a few years ago that there were 59 pairs of eagles nesting within 19 miles of Altamont Pass. But no one will say that there may be no more than 8-10 nesting pairs today. If confirmed, this figure would represent an 85% decline. There are no recent studies to document it: neither the government agencies, nor the wind industry, are eager to look into this, lest the public understand how harmful windfarms are to biodiversity.

 

It is well known that many golden eagles get killed by wind turbines. These birds, like many other raptors, prefer windy areas because it makes their soaring and gliding easier. But windfarm developers are also looking for windy spots, and that puts wind turbines and raptors on a collision course. Other reasons include the fact that the diet of raptors is often supplemented by scavenging. Wounded or freshly killed birds to be found under wind turbines will always attract eagles and other birds of prey to within striking distance of the turbine blades. This scenario creates an endless death/death cycle that will continue as long as propeller-style turbines are used by the wind industry. Again, none of this crucial information is mentioned in the EIR.

 

The golden eagle population is actually much lower than what is claimed in the EIR. I have seen the inflated population figures that have been produced by experts in the pay of the wind industry. My own estimates for California are now in the range of 500-700 golden eagles, with about 100 being killed by wind farms each year. More information on the bogus population studies financed by the wind industry may be found in my editorial of April 2010: “GOLDEN EAGLES FALL PREY TO WIND INDUSTRY”.

 

The Burrowing Owl is another species in decline that will be slaughtered throughout the life of the Ocotillo project.  Once again, where are the comparative impact studies and current population figures?  At Altamont Pass this species has been slaughtered by the thousands.

 

White-tailed kites, raptors of a protected species also to be found in Imperial County, will at some time be killed during the life of project. Yet the White-tailed Kite is not even mentioned in the EIR and it is one of the most vulnerable of all raptors due to its hunting behavior.  Pattern Energy, Inc. will probably counter my statement by saying there are no documented wind turbine fatalities including white-tailed kites in California. But keep in mind these turbines kill everything that is forced to live with them. There is an unavoidable comparison that can be made with the Red Kite. It is a similar species in size and habits, one which has been recorded as being slaughtered by wind turbines all over Europe. Yet in the 30-year history of California wind farms, no wind farm owner has come forward with evidence of white-tailed kite casualties. It is not because it does not happen.

 

The Merlin radar studies presented in the EIR are worthless, except for telling us in what season and at what time of day we can expect the highest number of casualties from collisions.  I also studied maps of the project area, and in my opinion the radar was set up in an area of the project site where it would collect the least bird activity in the rotor sweep area.

 

There is also no data in the radar study that shows use of the site in the 0-50 meter vertical range. This is an important omission, because most bird species spend the majority of their lives in this range, and they are at risk when flying upward from it.  If this bar were on the graph submitted, it would be off the page.

 

The Ocotillo plan cites no successes anywhere in the world where radar has been used to protect birds at wind farms.  Pattern Energy’s use of radar, on their Kenedy ranch wind project in Texas, is a failure: thousands of birds and bats have been reported killed in the short history of this wind farm and thousands more remain unreported due to flawed mortality studies.

 

The use of Radar at Ocotillo will fail due to several reasons; human error, blind spots, interference, smaller birds being excluded from protection, flights upwards from below the rotor sweep zone, the far too long 60-second shut down time, and a greed-driven reluctance to shut down the turbines. These are the major problems with the use of radar and none of this was discussed in the EIR. I will also add that a falcon or an eagle can travel 3 miles in a minute when swooping. I have seen it in the field and for this reason the 60 second shut down time is unacceptable. Another problem is that the mortality figures will never be credible, because an ornithologist paid by the developer will be in control of the information.

 

The CEQA was enacted in 1970 to provide for full disclosure of environmental impacts to the public before issuance of a permit by State or local public agencies. In addition to federal or State listed species, “sensitive” plants and animals receive consideration under CEQA. In response to concerns about wildlife impacts resulting from the development of the project, a variety of field studies and literature reviews were initiated. Having dealt with a multitude of bogus reports generated by the wind industry, I would recommend that every study submitted on behalf of any windfarm project be viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism. It is simply absurd that developers along with their mercenary experts be entrusted with the assessment of the damage their own projects will do to the environment. A child of ten could see a conflict of interest there.  No wonder the golden eagles are disappearing.

 

Among the important information left out of the EIR is this one: the speed of the blades, at their tips, will be 212 mph at 16 rpm. No bird or bat will be quick enough to get out of their way in time. After all, birds do get hit by cars moving at 60 mph.

 

Jim Wiegand
Vice President USA, Save the Eagles International

http://www.savetheeaglesinternational.org