Wind Farm Pressed To Protect Eagles

For a long time, the wind industry operated pretty much with impunity when it came to its impact on golden eagles and other birds. Those days could be coming to an end.

In California, the Obama administration is pushing an operating 102-megawatt wind power plant to accept a first-ever permit under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act that would allow for five eagle fatalities over a five-year period – but at the same time, EDF Renewable Energy, owner of the Shiloh IV plant in the Sacramento Delta region, would be required to undertake a host of conservation and mitigation measures, including retrofitting 133 power poles in southern Monterey County that are considered high risk to both bald and golden eagles.

Part of the 102.5 MW Shiloh IV Wind Project in Solano County, Calif. (image via EDF Renewables Energy)

Part of the 102-MW Shiloh IV Wind Project in Solano County, Calif. (image via EDF Renewables Energy)

“If these steps were taken, the wind project would have no significant impact on eagle populations in the area, while reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and helping California meet its goals of 33 percent of its energy from renewable energy,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said of its preferred alternative contained in a draft environmental assessment [PDF] unveiled for public comment last week.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s preferred alternative is more stringent than the one proposed by EDF Renewable Energy, both in the number of power pole retrofits required and in the frequency of monitoring for bird deaths.

The golden eagle is protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, but the act’s application — or, perhaps better put, non-application — to the wind industry has been a fuzzy area of regulatory enforcement that the Obama administration has been struggling to bring clarity to.

Many eagles have been killed by wind turbines, dating back through several presidential administrations. But with wind’s big expansion during the Obama presidency and under pressure from conservation groups, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been pressuring the wind industry to get permits to “take” eagles. As the service explains:

Under the Eagle Act, the Service can issue eagle permits to entities whose activities may result in “take” of eagles that is unintentional and incidental to otherwise lawful activities. “Take” means to pursue, shoot, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, destroy, molest or disturb eagles, their nests or their eggs. Wind energy companies are not required to have an eagle permit. However, companies operating without an eagle permit risk federal penalties, including criminal prosecution, under the Eagle Act for any unauthorized take of eagles.

The idea is that along with the permit to take a small number of eagles, the company would have to develop a plan that would not only result in minimizing harm to the birds, but also prevent deaths elsewhere such that there is actually no loss to the eagle population.

Information on how to comment on the draft environmental assessment can be found at the end of this Fish and Wildlife Service press release.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Das Hues

    Please explaine just 1 thing just give me 1 good reason and I’ll let it go.Why are the blades on these windmills Vertical rather than Horizontal.And why is the generation unit 300 feet in the air when it could be on the ground reducing costs for the tower and maintinance. I think although not exactly sure that steel driveshaft from the top of the tower to the generation unit firmly bolted to a nice and clean concreate pad down there on “Mother Gia” LOL! is a lot less expensive than a massive diameter giant sized tower. 1 more little thing is if the blades are horizontal then there would be no need for motors and computers to turn the blades into the winds. Give me just 1 valid reason and not another sound word not in speech or writing out of me about this.

    • Pete Danko

      Horizontal-axis turbines are generally less efficient at producing power than vertical-axis turbines. Michael Barnard has a great rundown of the whys here:

      That said, a guy at CalTech is doing some interesting work:

      As for turbine height, this is one of the most important factors in generating wind power. Winds are far stronger and more consistent as you move farther above ground. It’s the reason why many home wind power systems don’t deliver the hoped-for power: the tower isn’t tall enough and so the wind resource is poor. With a tall tower, the payoff in increased generation more than covers the increased tower and maintenance expenses.

      • Das Hues

        Not good enough. I know for fact that blades can be turned to counter excedingly high winds to prevent damage.
        That same sort of teqnique could be used to turn the blade in a total horizontal axis when not catching wind.

        I don’t know programming well but I would imagine that would not be much of an issue to program a computer to compleate such a mechanical issue.

        • Das Hues

          And furthermore with the weight savings of having the generator on the ground the tower could actually be taller and stronger with the same amount of metal in the construction of the tower.

          Also with the generator on the ground a Real Live certified elctrician who might not be as spry as a 19 year old farm boy with a handsome face and cherub red checks could access the generator and controllers without having to climb the tower.
          Even further saving money.

          • Das Hues

            And if I wanted to get really fancy I could start lecturing you on how there could be more than 1 blade per tower even further enhancing the ouput per unit.

          • Das Hues

            Horazontal would not even have to be a formed molded blade it could be something as simple as a knockoff of a parachute in plastic blade form the opens and closes using the torque of the weight of the blade rotating assisted by gravity and the wind.

          • Das Hues

            I haven’t even got out my graph paper a handfull of #2 pencils and texas instruments calculator

    • Mike Barnard

      Every attempt to build a utility-scale vertical axis wind turbine that generates the same amount of energy as a horizontal axis wind turbine with a better full lifecycle cost analysis has failed. Every assessment of generation capacity finds the same thing that has been in text books since about the 1960s, which is that VAWTs just aren’t as efficient or effective as HAWTs.

      There are nice niche locations for VAWTs, and at that most the UGE VAWT because it’s fairly pretty, at least when it isn’t canted over at an angle due to high winds as the ones in downtown Melbourne are today, when they just look broken even to people who know wind turbines. The UGE is #3 on the list of top 5 best selling small wind generators, and doesn’t even cause a blip on the scale of wind generation world wide.

      There are about 240,000 utility scale horizontal axis wind turbines pumping out electricity world wide.

      Every attempt to scale up VAWTs runs into the serious limitations with the form, especially asymmetrical bearing loading and serious material volume problems as the additional weight multiplies with scale.

      Pete has already posted my primary material on VAWTs and why they aren’t more popular, but it’s also worth looking at real vs faux innovation in wind energy.

  • RedCar

    1. How much more efficient is a vertical than a horizontal turbine? There is a big horizontal one operating on the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. How is it doing? Is the juice worth the squeeze?
    2. How high does a vertical turbine have to be to be really efficient? Does the risk to eagles and other birds vary with turbine height? How much?

    • Pete Danko

      I’d recommend Paul Gipe’s “Wind Energy Basics” for more information on VAWT vs. HAWT. As for the turbine in Quebec, I’ve seen pictures but don’t know anything about how it’s doing. On height, every site is different, but land-based turbines are on towers at least 80 meters high. Turbine height may lessen mortality of some raptors and may increase it for others; it seems to be very site and bird specific. In general, however, we’ve seen lower mortality rates with taller turbines with larger swept areas vs. more, shorter and smaller turbines.