$2 million grant to UC Santa Cruz researchers supports efforts to prevent bird and bat deaths caused by power lines and wind turbines

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has added $2 million to a contract with the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group (SCPBRG) aimed at solving the problem of bird deaths caused by power lines and other electricity transmission structures. The group has been overseeing research in this area since May 2002, when it received an initial $1 million grant from the CEC. The new funding will expand the research program to address avian and bat fatalities associated with wind-generated power systems.

Thousands of hawks, eagles, owls, other birds, and bats die each year from interactions with utility structures, including wind turbines, electrical conductors, and distribution poles.

"Wind turbine mortality is a difficult problem to observe, quantify, or solve. We are looking for some really innovative solutions to this potentially significant cause of raptor death in California," said Brian Walton, coordinator of the SCPBRG, based at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Wind power is generally considered to be environmentally friendly--it does not produce harmful emissions, it is compatible with many other land uses and is relatively inexpensive, and it reduces U.S. dependence on foreign fuel sources. Some wind farms, however, are responsible for a large number of bird fatalities, and recent surveys have shown higher numbers of bat fatalities at newer developments.

One recent study reported that at least 1,000 bird fatalities may occur every year at Altamont wind farm near Livermore, California. About 50 percent of these losses are raptors, which are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the California Fish and Game Code. The rate of bat fatalities due to interactions with wind turbines is unknown, but some biologists have expressed concerns about the effects of wind farms on bat populations.

The issue has become more pressing for utility companies in recent years as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has adopted a tougher stance toward the industry over the deaths of protected birds. After years of looking the other way, the agency is now threatening to prosecute and fine companies for the deaths of protected birds. In 1999, a Colorado utility cooperative became the first power company to be prosecuted in federal court for bird electrocutions; the company was fined and forced to retrofit its wiring.

In California, the state Energy Commission has taken the lead in addressing these problems.

"UC Santa Cruz has been assisting our efforts to develop effective solutions, and we felt it was important to expand the program to address the problems associated with wind power," said Commissioner Art Rosenfeld, chair of the CEC's research and development committee.

The original program focused on finding effective ways of reducing bird deaths caused by electrocutions and collisions with traditional power structures. Under the contract amendment, the SCPBRG will expand the commission's program to include research aimed at reducing bird and bat mortality on wind farms. The program now includes research and development activities in four main areas:

* Risk assessment research to develop and implement methods and tools to locate and assess energy-related structures that present high risks for electrocutions and collisions, and to determine the extent of negative avian and bat interactions in California.

* Risk reduction research to develop and implement standards, guidelines, tools, and procedures to reduce the extent of negative avian and bat interactions with energy-related systems.

* Compliance monitoring to develop and implement procedures, guidelines, and standards for auditing the effectiveness of mitigation efforts.

* Technology transfer to develop media needed by agencies, researchers, and industry to access and share information intended to promote and improve bird-safe practices in regard to transmission system upgrade, maintenance, and design.

The SCPBRG was established in 1975 to restore the endangered peregrine falcon population in California. The group now applies its expertise to a wide range of bird species and is working toward creative solutions for a variety of wildlife management challenges in the western United States. Additional information about the SCPBRG is available on the web at http://www.scpbrg.org.


Note to reporters: You may contact Walton at (831) 459-2466 or walton@ucsc.edu.

For the California Energy Commission, contact Percy Della at (916) 654-4989 or pdella@energy.state.ca.us.