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Keywords:

  • Altamont Pass;
  • bird fatalities;
  • mitigation;
  • raptor mortality;
  • repowering;
  • wind energy;
  • wind turbine

ABSTRACT  Wind turbines in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA), California, USA, have caused annual fatalities of thousands of raptors and other birds. Alameda County implemented an Avian Protection Program requiring mitigation measures and eventual repowering to modern wind turbines, all intended to reduce raptor fatality rates 50% from levels estimated for 1998–2003. Two years into the 3-year program, we compared estimates of fatality rates between 1998–2003 and 2005–2007 and between a repowered wind project (Diablo Winds) and the APWRA's old-generation wind turbines. The APWRA-wide fatality rates increased significantly for multiple bird species, including 85% for all raptors and 51% for all birds. Fatality rates caused by the Diablo Winds repowering project were not lower than replaced turbines, but they were 54% and 66% lower for raptors and all birds, respectively, than those of concurrently operating old-generation turbines in 2005–2007. Because new-generation turbines can generate nearly 3 times the energy per megawatt of rated capacity compared to the APWRA's old turbines, repowering the APWRA could reduce mean annual fatality rates by 54% for raptors and 65% for all birds, while more than doubling annual wind-energy generation. Alternatively, the nameplate capacity of a repowered APWRA could be restricted to 209 megawatts to meet current energy generation (about 700 gigawatt-hr), thereby reducing mean annual fatalities by 83% for raptors and 87% for all birds. In lieu of repowering, bird fatalities could be reduced by enforcing operating permits and environmental laws and by the County requiring implementation of the Alameda County Scientific Review Committee's recommendations.