PLEASANTON -- An experimental project designed to test whether a new type of wind turbine will prove less lethal to Altamont Pass birds will have to clear a few more hurdles before gaining approval of Alameda County.

The three-member East County Board of Zoning Adjustments on Thursday delayed voting on permits for the 40-turbine Sand Hill Wind project, citing concerns over "limitations" in the project's bird mortality study, the scenic impact of the turbines and the precedent the project could set for the technological future of the Altamont Wind Resource Area.

"The avian validation study in my opinion is absolutely worthless," said board vice chair Larry Gosselin. "We have this remarkable responsibility to address protecting avian species and we're being asked to do that with a study that nobody really advocates for."

Alameda County officials and environmental groups are hoping a new wind turbine design, shown here in an artist’s rendition, will prove safer to
Alameda County officials and environmental groups are hoping a new wind turbine design, shown here in an artist's rendition, will prove safer to birds and bats. (Courtesy of Ogin Inc.)

The Altamont Scientific Review Committee -- a five-member group that makes recommendations to the Alameda County Planning Director -- approved the validation study.

It would survey deaths among four raptor species -- the golden eagle, burrowing owl, American kestrel and red-tailed hawk -- for a year after installation of the new "shrouded" turbines in three different zones on the Altamont Pass.

Board members, who say the project could lay the groundwork for repowering the Altamont Wind Resource Area, said they could still approve the project with some modifications to the study and consideration of "less aesthetic impact" on the view from Interstate 580.


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"I think we need an experiment, but why does the rest of Alameda County have to see it?" said board member Jim Goff. "We've got so much rural area, I don't know why we have to go through a scenic corridor."

The shrouded turbines -- designed with two concentric covers around the blades to make them less accessible to approaching birds and bats -- would replace 73 existing conventional windmills.

Representatives of Ogin Inc., the company that developed these turbines, have said they won't move forward with a second phase of 300 additional turbines if the demonstration doesn't prove them safer for birds than conventional designs.

"We think the conditions put forth by the board are reasonable," said Peter Pawlowski, Ogin's director of business development.

The board will take up the issue again at its May 22 meeting in Pleasanton.

Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.