FAIRFIELD — A wind turbine farm in the Montezuma Hills could become the first in the nation to get a federal permit covering golden eagle deaths caused by spinning blades and electrocution.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to issue a permit allowing for up to five golden eagle deaths over five years at the wind farm without federal penalties. In return, EDF Renewable Development would take such steps as retrofitting 133 power poles to prevent bird electrocutions.
“We’re glad a company is willing to work with us to address eagle mortalities,” said Eric Davis of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
EDF Renewable Development requested the eagle permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its Shiloh IV wind turbine project. The $300 million project consists of 50 turbines that are 400 feet tall from the ground to the top of an upturned blade. It was built in 2012.
Shiloh IV is one of several projects that over two decades have brought several hundred electricity generating wind turbines to the Montezuma Hills. New federal regulations issued in 2009 allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue “take” permits for bald eagles and golden eagles in certain situations.
The permit request allows the agency to work with EDF Renewable Development to create a conservation plan, Davis said.
Wind turbine farms are not required to get eagle permits. But, Davis said, they otherwise risk facing federal penalties for eagle deaths. Some law enforcement actions are underway involving turbine projects, though he can’t give details, he said.
“I would say it’s a pretty risky endeavor to put up a wind facility in an area that is known to have eagles without a permit,” Davis said.
The agency used a mathematical model to predict that the Shiloh IV project will kill five golden eagles over five years. It called this a worst-case assessment. EDF Renewable Development, should it get the permit, must stay within this limit or face the possibility of legal penalties for further golden eagle deaths.
Under the proposed permit, new required actions get triggered as the number of eagle deaths approaches five over five years.
For example, if two or three golden eagles get killed, EDF Renewable Development could be required to try to keep eagles away from the spinning turbine blades using visual methods. Possibilities include painting blades with staggered stripes or painting one blade black on each turbine to make them more visible to eagles.
A fourth eagle death could result in curtailing turbine use during certain times of the year or certain times of the day, Davis said.
EDF Renewable Development responded to questions with an email statement. Getting the permit would mean that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded the required actions will result in no net loss of eagles, Rick Miller, EDF wind business development director for the western region, said.
“Our company pursued the permit based on our responsible development practices to minimize environmental impacts while generating zero-emissions energy,” Miller said in the email.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a draft environmental document on the proposed Shiloh IV eagle permit and is taking comments until Nov. 11. Please go to www.fws.gov/cno/conservation/migratorybirds.html to see the document.
“This would be the first (permit) nationwide for golden eagles,” Davis said. “That’s why it’s a big deal. That’s why we really want public comments.”
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.