LANCASTER — Solar company sPower and the Antelope Valley Audubon Society agreed to work together after the removal of a red-tailed hawk’s nest from a tree near the site of sPower’s future San Pablo Raceway solar project in west Lancaster.
A video recorded in January showed a worker in a lift remove the nest from a tree where it had been for several years. Although it wasn’t on the video, the hawk flew away from the nest as the worker approached the tree. Dan Potter, who recorded the video, called out to the worker and asked if he saw the hawk fly away from the tree. The worker looked up but did not answer Potter.
After the worker returned to the ground, a red pickup truck pulled up. The driver took the nest and put it in the bed of the pickup truck. The first worker then pumped his fists in the air. A biologist watched from the side.
Potter sent the video to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which investigated the destruction of the nest. The department turned over evidence to the Los Angeles County District Attorney.
AV Audubon Society President Don Goeschl invited Garret Bean, sPower’s vice president of Development, to address members of the AV Audubon Society at their regular Tuesday evening meeting.
“I am not against solar systems. I am not for solar systems. I am for proper management and distribution of them,” Goeschl said at the start of the meeting.
The day after the meeting, Bean and Goeschl released a joint statement:
“sPower and the AV Audubon value the unique resources and wildlife in the Antelope Valley. We continue to jointly monitor the hawk nest and other avian activity near the project site to ensure the safety all avian species.”
Bean did not discuss the ongoing investigation at the meeting. He updated the group about the San Pablo project and the company’s desire to be successful in the community and treat the environment with respect.
The hawks ultimately built a nest in different tree. However, Potter has photographed them in the original tree. The project site includes a great horned owl’s nest in a separate tree. The owl chicks recently fledged the nest. The hawk chicks are expected to fledge in about two weeks. There are 500-foot buffers around each tree. sPower is working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to work inside the buffer zone once it gets the department’s approval. The work conducted inside the buffer zone is incremental.
Bean noted an ironic twist to the raptors’ well-being is that whenever pictures of the birds are posted on social media people drive out to the site to look at them. That can disturb the birds, but he also noted red-tail hawks and great horned owls are among the most tolerant of disturbances.
The energy from the San Pablo Raceway project will be sold through CleanPowerSF, a California Community Choice Aggregator managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Under the terms of the agreement sPower needs to have the project online by mid-July. The project has been delayed because of measures taken not to disturb the nests.
“We’re losing money because we don’t have that facility online,” Bean said.
Bean showed evidence at other sPower solar sites where burrowing owls have built nests next to the solar arrays.
After the hawks’ nest removal sPower dropped SWCA Environmental Consultants, the firm that oversaw the removal of the nest. sPower switched to WEST Environmental & Statistical Consultants to monitor the nests.
“I don’t appreciate the conduct of some of the employees out there and we’re taking measures to address that,” Bean said.
After the meeting Bean said they did so to rebuild trust in the community.