Solar thermal power plant developers in California are scurrying to study their projects\u2019 possible impacts on the Golden Eagle under a new U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service policy. The strategy outlines what project developers must do to satisfy recent federal rules that effectively prohibit Golden Eagle \u201ctake\u201d permits--those allowing the killing of legally protected species. \u201cWe have a Golden Eagle problem,\u201d said Rainer Aringhoff, Solar Millennium founding president. The company must show that its three giant desert solar projects will not reduce the Southwest\u2019s dwindling Golden Eagle population. The latest twist in the complicated project approval process has solar developers grumbling about the slowdown as they race to get permits and break ground by the end of the year to qualify for federal cash grants. The grants can cover up to 30 percent of total project costs. Speaking at the Governor\u2019s Renewable Energy Policy Conference March 24, Aringhoff was frustrated that federal officials just now are requiring the studies two years into the permit process for his company. The new policy is aimed at preserving and restoring the shrinking Golden Eagle population, according to the Fish & Wildlife Service. \u201cAdditional take of the Golden Eagle\u201d may make its population unsustainable, explained Alicia King, agency migratory bird program communication coordinator in the nation\u2019s capital. \u201cWe need to be supporting the growth of renewable energy, but do it mindfully.\u201d The Golden Eagle resides throughout California\u2019s desert region, so virtually all 10 of the major solar thermal projects slated for the area are subject to the new federal requirements, even though they appear to slow state and Obama administration efforts to fast-track renewable energy development. Those projects would generate more than 4,800 MW of power when built. The rules also apply to wind and photovoltaic projects slated for the desert. Solar developers \u201cwant to do the right thing,\u201d said Solar Energy Industries Association spokesperson Monique Hanis, but they also want to be treated \u201cfairly\u201d in the permit process. Under the agency\u2019s policy--designed to implement the Bald & Golden Eagle Protection Act--developers are to perform field studies for evidence of the bird within and around their sites. Should studies show that Golden Eagles are present developers would then have to show their operations would not kill any of the birds--for instance by causing them to abandon their nests or by destroying their foraging territories. If developers cannot make that demonstration, they effectively could not go forward with their projects since the agency prohibited further take permits last fall. Detection of any nests within an actual project area would mark the end of the road for the project, said Joshua Winchell U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson. A U.S. Fish & Wildlife study released with the new rules showed an estimated 600 Golden Eagles remain in the Mojave and U.S. portion of the Sonoran Deserts--the hotbed for utility-scale solar development. That population tends to stay in the region all year, nesting in high rocky areas. The birds forage for jack rabbits and other small prey over large areas, particularly over the valleys and plains solar energy developers favor, the study noted. Thus, the agency wants developers to study areas within four to 10 miles of their project perimeters for evidence of both indigenous Golden Eagle nests and resting places for migratory Golden Eagles that live further north and fly south for the winter. King said the agency may want to examine as much as three to five years of field study data to satisfy itself projects won\u2019t affect Golden Eagles. Indicating some potential flexibility in that policy, she urged project developers to work closely with agency biologists regarding what studies are needed for their particular projects. The agency\u2019s rules grant some exceptions. They allow killing species for safety emergencies, programmatic permits (as opposed to individual project permits) that provide \u201cnet benefits\u201d to the bird, and situations where a permit may result in an increase in the population or a net take of zero. The rule allows Native Americans to continue to kill Golden Eagles when \u201cabsolutely necessary\u201d for religious practices.