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California wind farm not responsible if eagles fly into blades, feds say

By Shelby Lin Erdman, CNN
updated 11:13 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The California wind farm is already in operation
  • Sometimes eagles and other birds fly into the massive blades
  • Audubon Society: "We are cautiously optimistic " about the permit

(CNN) -- A California wind farm is on track to get the first-ever permit allowing it to avoid prosecution and penalties in the event of eagle deaths from farm operations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday it expects to grant a permit to the Shiloh IV Wind Project, a 3,500-acre wind farm near Rio Vista, California, within 30 days that would allow for the deaths of five golden or bald eagles over a five-year period without the wind farm's operators being penalized.

"The permit, the first of its kind, requires the company to engage in conservation measures that protect the local population of golden eagles, while providing greater regulatory certainty for the company," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement.

Shiloh, which is a subsidiary of EDF Renewable Energy, also produced what the federal service described as a conservation plan to help minimize the wind farm's impact, not only on eagles, but on bats and other migratory birds, as well.

"The Shiloh IV eagle permit sets a precedent for proactive and collaborative eagle conservation at wind farms in northern California," according to a statement from service director Dan Ashe.

Garry George is the Renewable Energy Director for Audubon California, a state program of the National Audubon Society. He says the conditions of the permit are still unclear because the permit has not been issued yet.

"We don't like it when any bird is killed. We certainly don't like it when any eagle is killed," George told CNN Thursday.

But the group has supported the permits as a way to work with the industry to help it minimize the number of bird deaths on wind farms.

"We think the permit process is one way to do that." He added "we hope it provides conservation, but we don't know if it will."

It's unclear exactly how many eagles, in addition to other birds, are killed by the powerful turbines on wind farms every year. Only a small percentage of farms actually count the birds that are killed by the power turbine blades. "Farms aren't required to count the number of birds killed.... I've seen various numbers. I don't think we really know, but it's a lot," George said.

Bald eagles, in particular, are protected under federal laws, even though they are no longer on the endangered species list. A wind farm could incur steep penalties in the event of eagle deaths. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the permits help protect wind farms from accidental eagle deaths.

The Shiloh wind project, northeast of San Francisco, is expected to help California meet its goal of producing 33% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.

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