The renewable energy firm Avangrid is planning to spend half a million dollars over a three-year period to breed six condors in captivity at the Oregon Zoo, in order to settle concerns over its Manzana wind farm in Kern County, California. The new condor plan has already set the Intertubes on fire and it is sure to revive anti-wind smears that pin responsibility for declining bird populations on wind turbines. However, it also demonstrates that wind power is here to stay.
The Avangrid Condor Breeding Plan
The Associated Press and The Los Angeles Times have the scoop on Avangrid’s condor plan. Avangrid estimates that the Manzana Wind Power Project involves the risk of up to two adult condor deaths over its 30-year lifespan. Two chicks and/or two eggs would also die for each of the two adult birds.
That’s two in total, not two each year. If $500,000 sounds like a lot of money to spend on two birds and a handful of chicks and/or eggs, there’s a good reason for that. The California condor once ranged all over the western US, but its population was decimated generations ago. Much love and attention has been lavished on preserving the few remaining condors, and captive breeding programs like the one in Oregon have finally helped to bring the wild population up. It would be a shame if wind turbines were responsible for setting that progress back on its heels.
According to AP, there are only 337 California condors in the wild today, with an additional 181 in captivity. Avangrid’s contribution to the captive population would only be temporary, as the six birds are expected to be released at age 18 months.
Avangrid’s New Wind Farm
Avangrid is a top global and US renewable energy firm with more than 50 projects already up and running across the country. If the breeding program is successful it could smooth the way for the future growth of Avangrid’s portfolio, and provide a model for other renewable energy developers to follow.
After all, the cost of wind turbines is dropping, and will continue to drop. That savings can help offset the cost of breeding programs and other environmental mitigation steps.
So far the condor breeding plan is providing Avangrid with a lot of good press, though it would be interesting to know why it took so long to take shape.
The news reports suggest that Manzana is a new project, but Avangrid already has something called the Manzana Wind Power Project under its belt. The 189-megawatt wind farm was completed in 2012, consisting of 126 General Electric 1.5 megawatt turbines on 65-meter towers.
Avangrid points out that the ground footprint is less than one acre per turbine, though the wind farm accounts for almost 80 square miles, including roads and a maintenance building.
When the project was completed, Avangrid also noted that it would be “an economic engine for years to come.”
“This project will support the local economy with property tax payments estimated to be more than $50 million and lease payments expected to be more than $30 million over the life of the project,” Avangrid wrote. “The property taxes will support schools, public health, fire, library and other necessary services in Kern County.”
Avangrid also takes note of additional environmental measures at Manzana, including stewardship assistance for a stretch of the famous Pacific Coast Trail.
What About The Condors?
The bird death issue is a serious one for wind developers, but it is far eclipsed by other threats to condors and other wildlife.
Without getting into the bird-murdering domestic cat thing, the fact is that there is no such thing as impact-free energy development. The people of the Earth are already responsible for massive habitat loss and climate impacts caused by fossil energy development, which hopefully may be stemmed and perhaps even reversed by the transition to less harmful, though not harm-free, forms of energy.
In addition, other forms of human activity can be adjusted to help ensure that endangered species like the condor live to see another generation.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife makes it pretty clear that wind turbines are the least of worries for birds like the condor.
“Thousands of years ago, California condors lived in many parts of North America, from California and other Pacific states to Texas, Florida, and New York,” they write.
Yet, by the 1970s only a few dozen remained in the wild. The species was declared endangered by both California and federal law, and it was so threatened by the 1980s that wildlife experts rounded up any they could find for safekeeping at zoos and other facilities.
So, what happened? Certainly not so many wind turbines, which were in short supply until recent years.
“As people settled the West, they often shot, poisoned, captured, and disturbed the condors, collected their eggs, and reduced their food supply of antelope, elk, and other large wild animals,” CDFW explains. “Eventually, condors could no longer survive in most places. By the late 1900s the remaining individuals were limited to the mountainous parts of southern California, where they fed on dead cattle, sheep, and deer.”
CDFW also notes that intentional condor-killing was just part of the problem. Even after condors were protected by law, illegal killing was a factor, and so were other forms of human activity.
“A major problem has been contamination from lead fragments in carcasses, poison bait, and environmental pollutants,” they explain. “Contamination from past use of the pesticide DDT may have prevented the hatching of some condor eggs in the recent past, and human activity in the condor nesting range has been followed by growing numbers of ravens, which threaten condor eggs and nestlings.”
To be clear, CDFW includes “accidental collision with wires and structures” as risk factors, but they seem more concerned about the risk of accidental lead poisoning from spent hunting ammunition. California finally made non-lead hunting ammo mandatory in 2013, but the law did not take effect until 2019.
Onward & Upward For US Wind Power
All of this is by way of saying that endangered species can be protected with the right dose of willpower. That includes the willingness of energy developers to invest in environmental protection, and the willingness of policy makers to enact laws that prevent energy developers and other people from creating new risks and hazards.
Nevertheless, wind power is here to stay, and Avangrid is a case in point. Last year the company moved forward with a 306-megawatt project in New Mexico and it is also eyeballing the nations’ soon-to-be-booming offshore sector, too.
A new generation of bird deterrence systems may help the wind industry clap back at the bird death canard once and for all, and the bird-friendly Audubon Society is among the conservation organizations advocating for a swift transition to renewable energy in order to protect birds from climate impacts.
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Image courtesy of Avangrid Renewables.