Proposed Wind Project Presents Alarming Impacts

EPIC header logoEPIC urges greater efforts to minimize impacts to the environment

Simulation showing what the view from Scotia would look like after large turbines are installed atop Monument Ridge created by Terra-Gen, a San Diego-based renewable energy company. Courtesy of EPIC.

There is a proposed wind energy project for the hills just southwest of Scotia, California. This project has given me untold heartburn as I try to develop EPIC’s position on the project. Some points are obvious: renewable energy is necessary to limit the harm of global climate change, and many species will be harmed from climate change, hastening the pace of the Anthropocene.

Still, renewable energy is not without its environmental costs, and here the proposed project has many worrying impacts. Poorly conceived or developed projects have tarnished the reputation of wind power in the past.

The project is proposed in a precarious location—along Monument and Bear River Ridges between the Eel River and the ocean, and overlapping in part with the Cape Mendocino Grasslands Important Bird Area. Due to its location, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife warned in a letter to the County that the location was one with “High or Uncertain Impacts to Wildlife” or was “Inappropriate for Wind Development.”

Concerns from the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR):

• Operational impacts to nonraptor birds are “potentially significant,” particularly to a population of horned larks which are reproductively isolated from other populations and may represent a unique and distinct evolutionary lineage. (DEIR from 3.5-124 – 126.)

• Impacts to raptors are “significant and unavoidable” as the DEIR projects, with potentially over 100 raptor deaths per year.

• Hundreds of bats are likely to be killed per year, with reason to suspect that this project—owing to its close proximity to a known bat migratory “hot spot”—could cause species-level impacts to the hoary bat. (For more on the hoary bat, see the Creature Feature on page 20.)

• An estimated 20.86 marbled murrelets, a species protected by the Endangered Species Act, would be killed throughout the life of the project.

• Bald and golden eagles are expected to be killed in the operation of the project, although there is no estimate yet on the total number.

And so on. Renewable energy should be an answer to the Anthropocene, not a further cause of it. As a friend said recently (see the offshore wind article on page 8), we need to do the right things in the right way.

But there are ways to limit the operational impacts of wind energy on wildlife. Many of these, however, have been left out of the project—at least for now. For example: considerable research has been conducted to learn how to minimize harm to bat species. Limiting operation during high risk periods—such as  low-wind periods during migration—has been shown to be effective, reducing fatalities by 44-93 percent with only minimal impacts to power generation.

Satellite view of a proposed Terra-Gen wind farm, illustrating proximity to Scotia, Stafford, Elinor, and Pepperwood, from Google Maps.

Other techniques, from the sensible (ultrasonic acoustic bat deterrent devices) to the seemingly silly (painting turbine blades purple), offer the potential to reduce impacts further. The project, however, does not adopt these mitigation measures. Instead, the project proposes to convene a “technical advisory committee” to recommend mitigation measures after the project has already started.

Until all feasible mitigation measures have been exhausted, there will still be work to be done. EPIC expects that further refinement of the project will occur to minimize harm and we decline to take a position—in favor, neutral, or against—until we see the project in its final form. But EPIC’s ultimate position will heavily depend on whether or not the project developer engages in a good faith attempt to minimize impacts to the fullest extent feasible. We should not have to make a choice between renewable energy and bird and bat deaths.