Public Comment

Audubon Society Responds to Wind Turbine Concerns

By Samantha Murray
Tuesday April 11, 2006

Although I can appreciate James K. Sayre’s concern over avian mortality resulting from wind turbines, I feel compelled to clarify several assertions made in his recent commentary, “Wind Turbines Will Kill Birds and Bats” (Daily Planet April 4).  

First, I don’t think Mr. Sayre or anyone else knows for certain whether the new wind turbine at the Shorebird Nature Center near the Berkeley Marina will kill birds and bats. This is precisely why the Golden Gate Audubon Society has strictly required the city to consult with a leading scientist in the field to determine final location of the wind turbine and establish a long-term monitoring plan for the site. Another clear contingency of Golden Gate Audubon’s approval is the city’s commitment, should any birds be killed by the turbine, to work immediately with a consultant approved by Golden Gate Audubon to avoid bird kills. Should we determine the number of deaths to be unacceptable and mortality cannot be mitigated, the city and all parties agree to remove the turbine.  

Golden Gate Audubon takes avian mortality from wind turbines very seriously. In fact, we are currently engaged in a critical effort to resolve the egregious bird kill at Altamont Pass, to which Mr. Sayre refers. Joined by four other local Audubon chapters, Golden Gate Audubon has filed a suit under the California Environmental Quality Act against Alameda County over permits issued to wind energy operators at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA). The highly contentious wind turbines at the APWRA kill up to 4,700 birds annually, including up to 116 fully protected golden eagles, and have been doing so for more than two decades.  

Golden Gate Audubon is also profoundly aware, however, of the severe consequences global warming on wildlife and habitat, and we are committed to finding solutions that support renewable energy while also protecting wildlife. Mr. Sayre himself suggests that we need to find “more passive ways to generate and conserve energy,” and includes solar energy as a means of doing so. The Shorebird Nature Center, which is to be the future site of the Berkeley wind turbine, already uses solar electricity, along with radiant heating, natural linoleum floors, sustainably harvested wood and recycled glass countertops, to limit their footprint on the Earth. They seek wind energy to further lower their impact.  

While it’s difficult to say for sure whether a single 1.8 kilowatt wind turbine with a combined height of 40 feet will have an impact on birds, the city has asserted this is unlikely due to poor food sources near the site and lots of human activity, including daily classes of 30-plus people at the site. And despite the implication that Berkeley has turned its back on its progressive roots of the 1960s and 1970s in favor of selling out for “corporate technology,” this is not is not the first time Berkeley has been open to the progressive idea of wind energy. In fact, there are already two small wind turbines in the Berkeley area—one built in 1982 on a 60-foot tower with 10-foot blades, and one built in Albany in 1998, with four-foot blades.  

The city’s proposed turbine at the Berkley Marina is simply not analogous to the more than 5,000 turbines built in the 1980s at the APWRA, squarely in the middle of a critical flight corridor for birds. Moreover, the new Berkeley turbine will allow the city to explore the feasibility of wind energy at this site with assurances that the turbine will be removed, if unacceptable bird mortality occurs.  

Finally, I believe Mr. Sayre is mistaken in his assertion that we are “just another large corporate entity with its own agenda, which does not always place protecting all bird life at the top of its priorities.” Golden Gate Audubon, an independent organization that is affiliated as a chapter of the National Audubon Society, has been a leader in protecting Bay Area birds since 1917. For nearly 90 years, we have played a critical role in protecting many Bay Area habitats—from Eastshore State Park to Oakland’s Arrowhead Marsh to vast acreage in the East Bay hills.  

With the threat of global warming looming, I hope Mr. Sayre will agree that Golden Gate Audubon can—and must—play a role in shaping the development of future Bay Area wind energy projects. If wind energy is to play a role in California’s effort to reach 20 percent renewable energy, we must find solutions that work for wind and wildlife. Golden Gate Audubon is perfectly situated to help negotiate this balance. 


Samantha Murray is the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s conservation director.