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New Design May Reduce Bird Deaths In Wind Turbines On Altamont Pass

LIVERMORE (KPIX 5) -- Each year, thousands of birds die each year because they fly into wind turbines on the Altamont Pass east of Livermore. New technology could help reduce the number of bird deaths.

The area along Interstate 580 is great for harnessing wind energy, but it is bad news for birds. That includes protected species, such as the golden eagle.

"It's a major migratory route and a lot of raptors live there year round," said Michael Lynes of Audubon California.

Lynes said the Altamont Pass is a death trap for birds of prey.

"What we see a lot of times is when there's good wind there are often raptors and obviously it's of interest to wind companies because they want to harness that wind for energy," he said.

That's why Alameda County is trying something new. The county will study another type of turbine, called a "shrouded" windmill, to see if its design will be less lethal to birds.

The company behind the design, Ogin, said the smaller windmill sits below a bird's normal flight path.

Lynes likes the shrouded design for a different reason. He said birds have a tough time seeing the open blades that are on turbines now.

"Here it's a solid object. The blades aren't invisible [to birds] because they are spinning around," Lynes said.

An independent researcher will track the number of casualties for at least a year to see if the design decreases bird deaths.

About 40 shrouded wind turbines will be installed for the study. There are currently more than 4,000 turbines by the Altamont Pass.

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