Wind Energy Company in the Business of Saving Condors

The California condor. Image: Wikimedia Commons

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

The world desperately needs more sources of emissions-free energy, yet as these power sources are brought online, we must also contend with their impact on animals and ecosystems.

In California, government officials are trying to rescue California condors, which are critically endangered, from being killed by the blades of wind turbines. As a result, Avangrid Renewables, which operates the 126 turbines of the Manzana wind power project, will finance the breeding of condors in captivity to replace any that might be killed. 

Why This Matters: There haven’t been any recorded deaths of California condors by Manzana’s turbines to date, so this plan is preemptive. 

The Tehachapi Mountains are home to one of the world’s biggest and most productive wind energy regions, but also happen to be the habitat of the condor. It’s a conundrum, as climate change is a serious threat to North American bird species, yet green energy isn’t always a perfect solution. There are ways to make turbines less harmful to birds, but we need a broader national conversation about how renewables and nature can coexist. 

Not So Fast:  Though breeding condors in captivity appears to solve the problem to losing individuals of an endangered species, conservationists are hesitant to endorse this option, as it does not decrease the number of deaths. Joe Merrimack of the American Bird Conservancy told the LA Times:Having a conversation about raising condors — a poster child of the Endangered Species Act — to kill them is a hard pill to swallow. But it is also tough to pinpoint a better alternative.”

The population of condors in California is still just 518 birds after their extinction in 1987, making the need to save them particularly urgent. But this issue suggests that conservationists, private companies, and government officials will have to figure out how to best mitigate the impact of wind farms on nature (the same is true of solar panels).

Garry George, the clean energy director at the National Audubon Society, told the LA Times, “If wind energy and the expanding condor population can’t get along, we’re not going to get very far in staving off catastrophic climate change or saving this magnificent creature from extinction.”

Species in Peril: Avangrid, a corporate member of the Oregon Zoo’s Jonssson Center for Wildlife Conservation, has proposed the following mitigation project to prevent this facility from damaging the condor population.

  • This project would have the wind farm provide $527,000 over three years to breed six condors at the Jonsson Center. 
  • The funds would go towards adding a new zoo employee that can tend to the newborn condors, and towards veterinary treatments and transportation. 
  • Avangrid suggests that this program would result in fatalities of only two adult condos at the wind farm over the course of thirty years.

The Manzana wind farm also has installed radar units, telemetry, and optical systems that could prevent condors from crashing into the turbines, making it easier for workers to identify the kind of bird and switch off the turbine to spare the bird from harm.

 

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