Hundreds of wind turbines at Altamont Pass owned by the state\u2019s largest wind developer are to be replaced to reduce bird kills. Attorney General Jerry Brown announced the settlement with NextEra Dec. 6. \u201cThis landmark settlement mandates the replacement of outmoded wind turbines with newer models that are more efficient, generate more power and are less harmful to eagles, falcons and other birds,\u201d Brown stated. The settlement with NextEra could well lead to the replacement of nearly all of the existing fleet of 4,000-plus windmills in the pass to slash raptor mortality and increase turbine efficiency. \u201cThis is really good news,\u201d said Nancy Rader, California Wind Energy Association executive director. \u201cThere is a path to repower.\u201d \u201cEveryone knows they [NextEra] are the big boys at Altamont Pass and others are expected to follow,\u201d added Kenneth Shawn Smallwood, an ecologist who sits on the Scientific Review Committee on Altamont Pass wind power. EnXco, a wind developer in the Altamant Pass with far fewer turbines, will be replacing equipment too, according to Mark Tholke, director for the Southwest region. Calls to the NextEra for comments were not returned. NextEra, which owns more than half of the turbines at Altamont Pass, agreed to take out 2,400 turbines in Alameda and Contra Costa counties producing about 240 MW over the next four years. It also committed to repowering aging turbines it buys from other developers in the area by 2015, and to pay $2.5 million in mitigation fees. Most of the existing turbines are past their useful lives. \u201cThe wind smiths out there hold the turbines together with duct tape and wire,\u201d Tholke said. The old windmills also are far smaller than their replacements. One new turbine will replace 20-30 old ones. New turbines are estimated to cost about $2 \u2013 $4 million each. At the same time, the depreciation schedule for writing off the turbine investment has been cut from 20 years to five years, making the tax benefit far more valuable. Windmills at Altamont Pass, which is also a key route for migratory raptors, have been the subject of dispute for years. With a peak of 7,500 turbines in the pass in 1990s--it was seen as the poster child for the wind industry\u2019s drawbacks because of the high number of birds caught in the turbine blades. The Altamont wind turbines were sited in the path of a major migratory bird route and next to the Diablo Range, home to the highest concentration of golden eagles in the world. The 30-year old turbines killed thousands of birds a year, including more than 2,000 golden eagles, hawks, falcons and owls two years ago, according to Smallwood, who authored a California Energy Commission report on the issue. Alameda County, which sites the wind projects in its region, agreed to license existing turbines in 2005 but law suits challenged its conditional use permits. Under a settlement reached in 2007, NextEra and others agreed to cut raptor deaths by half. Replacing old turbines was deemed the optimal way to slash bird collisions with turbine blades. However, that deal had few teeth it in and was not enforced, according to Smallwood. It was not until last year that NextEra began replacing old turbines. In addition to the state\u2019s head lawyer and NextEra, the settlement also was signed by the Audubon Society and Californians for Renewable Energy. Bird deaths have not been a significant problem at the state\u2019s four other wind resource areas at Tehachapi, San Gorgonio, Solano, and Pacheco Pass.