East Bay Parks Board Takes Stand on Altamont Wind Turbines


The East Bay Regional Park District board voted unanimously Tuesday, April 21 to urge county officials to support safer, more efficient and more bird-friendly wind turbines in the Altamont Pass area.

The board’s resolution calls on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to reconsider its support of Altamont Winds, Inc., which owns 828 older-generation windmills that kill thousands of birds and bats annually.

“I hope we’re providing the county supervisors with enough information to take a second look at this and say no,” said Park District Board Member Ayn Wieskamp, whose district includes the Altamont area east of Livermore. “Wind power is not going away, but we can take steps to protect the raptors and other species that have been so harmed by these turbines.” 

Park District board members are urging the county to pressure Altamont Winds, Inc., to replace its older windmills with newer windmills, which are more efficient and kill far fewer birds and bats. Newer-model turbines – which are larger but have fewer blades - kill up to 70 percent fewer birds than older turbines, according to several studies.

The County Supervisors on March 24 granted an appeal by Altamont Winds to extend its lease three years. The vote overturned a decision by the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments to deny the lease extension.

The Park District, Audubon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups opposed the lease extension, saying the county should have required Altamont Winds to replace its older turbines. The County Supervisors are expected to revisit the issue May 5.

Park District Board Member John Sutter said protecting wildlife is a priority for the District.
“This is a basic decision,” he said. “Do we pay attention to what the science tells us? Do we look at the facts? I say we should.”

Altamont Pass is home to some of the oldest, and most plentiful, wind turbines in North America. The area is also a favorite spot for raptors, who roost in large numbers at nearby Brushy Peak, Morgan Territory, Ohlone and other regional parks, and feast on the plethora of ground squirrels and jack rabbits in the area.

While no wind turbine is completely safe for birds and bats, newer models have shown dramatically lower kill rates because they’re more efficient and therefore fewer are needed, they’re spread farther apart, and the blades tend to be higher off the ground. Placing windmills away from flight paths can also reduce bird collisions.

Another benefit to the newer windmills is that they generate more energy – an important factor as Gov. Brown has said he wants 50 percent of California’s energy to originate from renewable sources.

Doug Bell, Wildlife Program Manager for the Park District, said the health of the East Bay raptor population is at stake.

“We know, at least for golden eagles, the mortality rate is unsustainable,” he said, noting that between 5,000 to 10,000 birds – including up to 2,000 raptors - die annually at Altamont Pass wind farms, according to a 2004 report by the California Energy Commission as well as numerous other studies. “What we don’t know is the long-term sustainability of other birds in the area. … The cumulative effect of wind turbines in other parts of California, the West, and beyond is a serious concern.’”

The East Bay Regional Park District is a system of beautiful public parks and trails in Alameda and Contra Costa counties east of San Francisco Bay, established in 1934. The system comprises 119,000 acres in 65 parks including over 1,250 miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and nature learning.

Carolyn Jones
(510) 544-2217