Soledad turbines On Ice?
Bird is the word in the windfarming faceoff between turbines and condors.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Soledad wants to build a seven-turbine wind farm to power its wastewater treatment plant. Sounds simple enough only the few remaining California condors frequently fly over the city and the Department of Fish and Game doesn’t want to take the chance for one endangered bird to be pureed.
“Even though it’s a relatively low risk,” says David Hacker, staff environmental scientist for DFG, “it’s still a risk and any risk can be significant for this species.”
The city’s mitigated negative declaration for the 100-kilowatt, 155-foot-high turbines concludes that the project would have no impact on condors, based on altitude monitoring that shows condors fly at higher elevations and the lack of foraging and nesting habitat near the water treatment plant. “To conclude that there may be potential ‘take’ of condors would be speculative based on the best available science,” the environmental document states.
If the city sticks with wind (and avoids lawsuits), it would have the only operable turbines in Monterey County. Though other turbines are in the works in Gonzales and elsewhere in the Salinas Valley, Soledad’s project is the farthest along, and may prove to be a test case for putting bird-chopping blades on the valley floor.
Conundrum Winery on River Road attempted to put in two turbines but backed out after the Monterey County Planning Commission – in response to DFG and U.S. Fish and Wildlife concerns over condors – required a full environmental impact report. A key distinction between Conundrum’s proposal and Soledad’s is that it was close to the foothills and the Ventana Wildlife Society gave it a moderate risk grade for condors.
VWS tracks a quarter of the 42 free-flying birds that go be between Pinnacles and Big Sur with GPS, says Kelly Sorenson, the nonprofit’s executive director. “I don’t think we’ve had any condors all the way down on the valley floor in the Salinas Valley,” Sorensen says. But there is a still a risk. “We just don’t know how condors will react with turbines,’’ Sorensen adds. “We don’t know if they will be able to avoid them or not.”
VWS is working with researchers at Stanford University to study if there are safe places in Monterey County for wind turbines based on condor flight paths, Sorenson says.
Condors aren’t the only big-no-no-to-kill, fully-protected species that bird regulators want to safeguard. American peregrine falcons and white-tailed kite also fly over Soledad, and Hacker says there are ponds and water channels near the wastewater plant that attract birds and bats.
For bird mitigation, the city proposes locking the turbines when wind speeds are below 7 miles per hour and when visibility is less than 300 feet due to fog. But Hacker says this isn’t good enough and is pushing the city to get competitive bidding on solar panel installation instead.