For decades, research has shown that wind turbines in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) kill many birds, including raptors, which are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and/or state and federal Endangered Species Acts. Each violation of these acts can result in fines and/or criminal convictions.
Early research in the APWRA on these bird fatalities mainly attempted to identify the extent of the problem. However, in 1998, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) initiated research to address the causal relationships between wind turbines and bird mortality. The Public Interest Energy Research Environmental Area (PIER-EA) of the California Energy Commission funded a project by BioResource Consultants to build upon and expand those previous endeavors and determine whether measures could be implemented to reduce bird collisions with wind turbines in the APWRA.
Two factors heighten the urgency and importance of resolving this issue. First, one goal of California's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is meeting 20% of the State's electricity needs through renewable energy sources by 2010. Second, Alameda County placed a moratorium on issuing permits to increase electrical production capacity in the APWRA beyond the existing 580 MW permitted capacity until there is demonstrable progress toward significantly reducing bird mortality.
With more than 2,000 megawatts (MW) of installed generating capacity in California, wind turbines provide up to 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of emissions-free electricity for the state annually. By identifying and implementing new methods and technologies to reduce or resolve bird mortality in the APWRA, power producers may be able to increase wind turbine electricity production at the site and apply the mortality-reduction methods at other sites around the state and country.
It is the mission of PIER-EA to develop cost-effective approaches to evaluating and resolving environmental effects of energy production, delivery, and use in California. In addition, an objective of the PIER Renewable Area is to expand renewable distributed generation technologies to help provide electricity generation in high-demand, high-congestion areas. By addressing bird mortality issues in the APWRA, the PIER-EA is helping to alleviate the most important environmental issue being associated with wind power generation, while also supporting the development of renewable energy generation in the State.