KERN COUNTY, Calif. (CN) - In a windswept desert north of Los Angeles, the Sierra Club is fighting a big wind turbine project where California's critically endangered condors roost and protected golden eagles soar.
"The project area is a historic habitat for the California condor," said Joan Taylor with the Sierra Club, contrary to the developers' report. "The report said the birds didn't roost there, but we know they do because they have collars and we track them."
"The environmental study the companies published had no mitigations on how to prevent golden eagle deaths at all," she added.
The 13,000-acre wind turbine project, generally called Jawbone, is located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in an area with regular winds rushing from the cool Pacific ocean up into the vast Mojave desert. But the proposed array of 116 turbines with giant blades is also near three bird sanctuaries and cuts across an important bird migration route, in addition to spanning a rare, year-round creek in the dry Mojave.
The area is one of the best, if not the best, region in the nation for steady and strong winds. It is an international destination for hang gliders because of the excellent soaring conditions.
Deaths to those who use those same winds for feathered flight is the main objection to the Jawbone project. "The condor population is slowly recovering, and it would cause a steep decline in their numbers if they go ahead and build the power plant," said Taylor. "The project's risk assessments were just completely inadequate."
Local politicians and bureaucrats have pushed the project, claiming that it will create jobs and expand the local economy, while, according to the environmental groups, they have hidden or ignored the consequences to protected birds and rare plants.
County Supervisor Zack Scrivner, for example, recently gave a speech claiming that clean energy projects like Jawbone will create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in tax revenue for the county.
However, a call to Scrivner's officer seeking comment on those claims was transferred to three different, apparently confused county employees before a reporter was finally transferred to a voice mail account in the planning department, to leave a message that has since languished without reply.
Throughout California, legislation pushing green energy has created a rush to build turbines.
"There are tax incentives for projects like this, but there are deadlines in order to qualify," said Sierra Club's lawyer Matthew Vespa. "They have to be able to supply energy by a certain time. I believe that these timeline issues contributed to rushing the projects and ignoring how they will affect protected bird species."
California legislation passed last year requires that by 2017 power companies in California must use clean energy sources for 20% of their overall sales. According to a 25-year deal between Pacific Gas & Electric and the Jawbone developers, the turbines must be turning by the end of this year.
The environmental groups now challenging Jawbone say explicitly that they support wind and solar energy as a way to avoid the most dire effects of global warming.