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Altamont Winds, Inc. will replace bird-killing wind turbines

Windmills, Altamont Pass Road

A wind-power company with out-of date turbines that wildlife biologist blame for the deaths of scores of raptors on the Altamont Pass has agreed to replace the older turbines. According to wildlife biologists, Altamont Pass, east of Livermore, is the deadliest spot in the United States for eagles and other birds. It is also the birthplace of the modern wind power movement. says:

The wind turbines, which spin on many different parcels and are owned by a variety of companies, were first built in the wake of the energy crisis in the 1970s. At their peak, there were nearly 6,000 turbines in operation. The machines, the tips of which reach speeds of 179 mph, killed about 10,000 birds, including 2,000 raptors, every year.

“The reduction of avian impacts was a primary factor that influenced our decision to discontinue operating our Altamont wind farms,” wrote Bill Damon, vice president of Altamont Winds.

Altamont Winds Inc. closed down its turbines for the season, and wrote in a letter to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that it had decided to “permanently shut down and cease operations” of all 828 of the power generators. The Tracy company has applied with Alameda County for a permit to replace the old equipment with 33 larger, state-of-the-art turbines that kill far fewer birds.

All wind farm operations on the Altamont are required to shut down between November 1 and February 15 as part of a 2007 agreement with the Audubon Society to attempt to reduce the death toll on raptors.

“It is a victory because this company is probably the most egregious actor in the Altamont,” said Cindy Margulis, the executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, who said 67 golden eagles were killed by Altamont Winds turbines between 2004 and 2014. “We’re thrilled they are going to stop running the old turbines and that those turbines won’t be killing birds anymore.”

Sandra Rivera, the assistant planning director for the Alameda County Planning Department says, “It’s all about trying to strike that balance” between renewable energy and wildlife conservation. continues:

The number of eagles killed by windmills is decidedly out of balance, according to wildlife advocates. Researchers say the problem is that eagles are so intent on finding prey, and are so programmed by evolution, that they simply cannot see the spinning blades.

But eagles aren’t the only flying predators that get nailed by windmills. Burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels and bats are also killed. The problem is particularly acute during the winter, when huge numbers of birds migrate to the area. About 35 golden eagles are killed annually in the Altamont Pass, which has one of the densest nesting populations of big raptors in the world.

The article details the history of the negotiations between the company, one of several operating farms in the Altamont, and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

The new wind turbines are more efficient, are taller, and fewer in number.

The new turbines stand as tall as 430 feet and produce as much energy as 23 of the old ones, which were lower to the ground. Where they are installed within the contours of the hills is also important, and a team of researchers has been working on a chart that wind farm operators can use to better position their turbines to avoid raptor flight paths.

The safety measures appear to be working. A recent study suggests that the number of raptors killed at Altamont each year has fallen about 50 percent since 2005. In 2014, bird mortality in general decreased by 25 to 40 percent, biologists say.

But the 828 turbines operated by Altamont Winds were between 30 and 40 years old, making them less efficient power generators and more efficient bird killers. The Fish and Wildlife Service said 31 golden eagles have been killed by the company’s turbines since 2010.

-Bill at

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