In a breakthrough for wind energy and birds, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Feb. 8 issued voluntary guidelines to bring the industry in California and across the nation into compliance with laws aimed at protecting raptors. Though voluntary, the federal guidelines are \u201ca big deal,\u201d said Nancy Rader, California Wind Energy Association executive director. \u201cThey provide a lot more clarity than the state guidelines.\u201d The federal agency announced the draft guidelines\u2014urging the industry to voluntarily follow them immediately\u2014as California stands at the precipice of an explosion in wind power. Statewide, developers are building 443 MW of new wind energy projects on top of 2,739 MW of existing capacity, American Wind Energy Association data show. California wind power could increase tenfold in the decade ahead, according to CALWEA, in response to the state\u2019s 33 percent renewable energy standard. Already, however, wind turbines in parts of California have killed numerous Golden Eagles, other raptors, and protected birds and long been a source of controversy. \u201cGolden Eagles and the West are synonymous,\u201d said Paul Schmidt, Fish & Wildlife assistant director. The protected birds live virtually everywhere, he said, including in the Altamont Pass wind resource area where turbines regularly kill 30 to 40 Golden Eagles a year. Schmidt explained the guidelines are designed to carry out 2009 changes to rules under the Bald & Golden Eagle Protection Act. The change for the first time allowed limited issuance of \u201ctake\u201d permits. (A \u201ctake\u201d means that a developer can kill a threatened or endangered species.) Prior to that, killing eagles was illegal, though Schmidt admits the prohibition was not systematically enforced. The federal Fish & Wildlife Service can pursue both civil and criminal penalties when wind project operators illegally kill or maim\u2014i.e. \u201ctake\u201d protected birds\u2014under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Bald & Golden Eagle Protection Act, according to agency spokesperson Alicia King. Under the guidelines, the Fish & Wildlife Service said it plans to press wind project operators and developers to s tudy how their projects affect birds, obtain necessary \u201ctake\u201d permits, and address impacts through operational and design changes or other mitigation strategies. Otherwise, wind operators can expect to face stepped-up enforcement action, said federal officials. Robert Johns, American Bird Conservancy spokesperson, said conservationists like the guidelines, but want them to be mandatory so they are enforceable. The Conservancy, he said, welcomes wind energy, but wants to make sure the industry grows in a way that it doesn\u2019t obliterate bird populations. Rader said that following the federal guidelines would help shield the wind industry from federal legal action when protected birds are killed, an advantage not offered under joint California Energy Commission-Department of Fish & Game guidance. The Fish & Wildlife Service\u2019s emphasis on the many wind operators at Altamont Pass is expected to supplement a recent settlement agreement the state entered with NextEra last December. Under that agreement, the company\u2014the biggest wind operator in the area\u2014is replacing its existing Altamont fleet of 4,000-plus wind turbines with new models that reduce raptor mortality and increase energy production (Current, Dec. 10, 2010). The agency plans to focus on other areas too, because the guidelines apply to all wind projects, according to Schmidt, whether or not they are on public or private land. Conservationists and the Fish &Wildlife Service are hopeful that new technologies eventually can eliminate wind project bird kills, noted both Schmidt and Johns (see related Cleantech below). The federal guidelines are based on recommendations of an advisory committee, which included wind energy representatives from California. The wind industry backed the panel\u2019s recommendations last year. A California wind energy company manager said operators are reviewing the guidelines and are not yet ready to comment on them. The Fish & Wildlife Service may make some modifications to the guidelines after a 90-day comment period, according to King.