Granite Mountain Wind Energy Project Under Review

The Bureau of Land Management plans to resume environmental review of the Granite Mountain wind energy project proposed by Renewable Energy Systems America (RES).   If the Granite Mountain wind energy project is approved, residents of the Victor Valley are likely to lose the majestic site of a golden eagles soaring above the desert, or the high-pitched tone of bats swooping through the night sky in chase of insects.  The project's environmental review was stalled last year as the Department of Interior basically needed time to figure out how to sneak around a Federal law that prohibits the "take" (harassment or death) of bald and golden eagles.  The spinning blades of wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats each year.   According to the draft environmental impact statement released in 2010 before the project review was halted, several golden eagles are active in the vicinity of Granite Mountain, along with Swainson's hawk, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and various species of bats. 

Despite the project developer's claim that larger wind turbines are less fatal to birds and bats, experiences with other wind projects suggests the Granite Mountain wind energy project could significantly impact the Victor Valley's raptor and bat population.  The Pine Tree wind project near Tehachapi is under investigation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service because it has resulted in at least 6 golden eagle deaths in only 3 years of operation.  Some wind projects kill golden eagles at such a fast rate that the raptor's population cannot sustain itself, and they are extirpated from some areas.

Bat mortality is also a major concern.  The Granite Mountain area hosts canyon bats, Pallid bats, Townsend's big-eared bat, Mexican free-tailed bats, and others.  Offering a stark warning, a study found that wind facilities in the Pennsylvania killed at least 10,000 bats in one year, sending ripple effects into an agriculture sector that depends on bats to keep insects in check.  The draft environmental impact statement for Granite Mountain, however, is vague on the project's potential impact on bats, but admits that other wind energy projects have resulted in high death rates.
However, the High Winds Power Project in Solano County, California contains 90 newer technology turbines and surveys detected 116 bat carcasses during ground searches over 2 years, most of which were Mexican free-tailed bats (Curry et al. 2006). As more wind facilities are developed in the southwest U.S., additional post-construction monitoring data using protocols focused on bats will become available and will aid in impact analysis and risk assessment.
This last sentence from the draft impact statement (emphasis added) is odd.  It basically states that we should continue to build wind energy facilities in America's southwestern deserts so we can kill more bats in order to figure out how to stop killing them.  In the meantime, we will lose the natural balance our desert ecosystems depend on, wiping out predator with far reaching effects.

The image below, pulled from the draft environmental impact statement, shows a map of turkey vulture migrations that have crossed the site of the proposed Granite Mountain wind project, suggesting the project is also likely to have an impact on migrating turkey vultures.  Turkey vultures that frequent the Mojave Narrows Regional Park were not observed transiting Granite Mountain, however.

The You Tube video below shows the consequences of wind turbines placed on hillsides frequented by birds, raptors and bats.


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