As California attempts to divorce itself from fossil-fueled electricity, it may be trading one environmental sin for another — although you don’t hear state officials admitting it.
Wind power is the fastest growing component in the state’s green energy portfolio, but wildlife advocates say the marriage has an unintended consequence: dead birds, including protected species of eagles, hawks and owls.
“The cumulative impacts are huge,” said Shawn Smallwood, one of the few recognized experts studying the impact of wind farms on migratory birds. “It is not inconceivable to me that we could reduce golden eagle populations by a great deal, if not wipe them out.”
California supports roughly 2,500 golden eagles. The state’s largest wind farms kill, on average, more than 80 eagles per year. But the state is set to triple wind capacity in the coming years as it tries to become the first state in the nation to generate 33 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2020.
“We would like to have no bird deaths and no bird injuries. But, once again, we have to balance all the needs of society. All the people who want to flip their switch and have electricity in their homes,” said Lorelei Oviatt, Kern County planning commissioner.
If an oil company killed 80 eagles in a spill, its CEO would be getting death threats.