The Lassen Municipal Utility District Board of Directors formed an ad hoc committee and authorized its general manager to begin negotiations regarding an interconnection agreement with one of the companies proposing the construction of a wind-generation project in Lassen County.
President Bud Bowden said the item was placed on the board’s agenda to give Ray Luhring, the district’s general manager, formal approval to begin negotiations with Invenergy, a wind-generation company proposing a wind farm in the Horse Lake area.
Last month Invenergy offered to make millions of dollars of upgrades to LMUD’s transmission lines in order to create a path to move its power to market.
Any interconnection agreement between LMUD and Invenergy would need to be approved by the LMUD board.
While the board granted Luhring the authority to negotiate with Invenergy, Director Jay Dow asked for an ad hoc committee to be comprised of two board members and the board’s legal counsel.
Bowden, Dow and Jamiee Jones were appointed to the committee that will work with Luhring.
Dow’s request for the committee was sparked in part by comments from Todd Swickard, a local rancher who expressed some concerns regarding wind-generation projects in Lassen County.
Swickard said there had been numerous applications for wind-energy development on public lands covering hundreds of thousands of acres. He said the developers of these projects already have signed right-of-way agreements with the federal agencies.
“The nature of wind-energy development makes it very obtrusive, or visible, I guess I should say. It’s on top of all of the ridges,” Swickard said. “If all of these go forward, probably anywhere in Lassen County you would be able to see windmills. They’re very large, 440-feet tall, and I really think this is the largest land-use decision this county has ever been faced with. It has just tremendous potential to impact all aspects of our lives here in Lassen County, possibly good, possibly bad, depending upon where you stand and where they’re located.”
Swickard called for more public discourse on the issue so the citizens of Lassen County can decide the appropriate locations for the windmills.
“Lassen County is currently working on the energy element of their plan,” Swickard said. “I think as they go through that process, some of this will come out as to what the proper location of these wind-energy sites should be and where the impacts are going to be considered more than acceptable. That discourse needs to take place, and I think we need to look at the big picture rather than just piecemeal one here, one there, and then get down the road and say, ‘Man, we should have thought this out better.’ I think this needs to go through a proper planning process.”
Swickard acknowledged the financial incentives for LMUD, but he said the board also needs to look at the overall impacts on the county as a whole and consider the opinions of the county’s residents regarding the wind turbines.
“I really think at this time it’s probably a little early for LMUD to enter into negotiations on one particular part of this overall planning process,” Swickard said.
Dow said he wanted to respond to some of Swickard’s concerns.
“I don’t think it’s LMUD’s position to approve or disapprove these projects,” Dow said. “I know at one point LMUD was interested in becoming the lead agency on this. I don’t think that’s our goal whatsoever as a board member. I think we need to go through the proper planning channels.”
Dow said while he had some of the same concerns regarding the overall planning process, but he said the item before the board was simply to begin negotiations with Invenergy regarding an interconnection agreement.
In recommending the ad hoc committee, Dow said, “I think this is complicated, and I think we have to look at the big picture here and look way down the river at what we do and realize Invenergy may be one of the first ones here, but they’re not the only ones. I think we really have to look at the whole picture.”
“That’s perfectly acceptable to me,” Luhring said of Dow’s suggestion. “I think I can give more of the technical aspect. I would look for the ad hoc committee to funnel in comments on different things and maybe some of the concerns Mr. Swickard brought in.”
Director Wayne Langston asked about the status of the project, and Luhring invited Matt Giblin, Invenergy’s project manager, to address the board.
“The current project status is we have applications that we’ve submitted to the county and we’re working with the county on completing them. And we have applications we’ve submitted to the BLM and we’re working with the BLM, basically to finalize the applications going forward, and part of that finalization process is identifying who will own what facilities in the proposed project as far as transmission, substation, and all that kind of stuff. That would kind of be the LMUD part of it we’ve kind of been waiting on. Stuff we’ve worked on through last year with the previous management and kind of come to some conclusion, and now we have to start over and that’s pretty much where it stands.”
Giblin said the agencies want more specific information on the project and more information on the interconnection agreement. Invenergy will resubmit the applications to get a determination of completeness from the county and the BLM.
The county and the BLM, as the lead environmental agencies, would hire a contractor to begin the environmental review process. Then the project moves into the public-review process.
“We’d like to start that process in two or three months,” Giblin said.
“My original thought was we’re going to spend time on a project that’s not even approved yet,” Langston said, “but as I’m understanding what you’re saying, Matt, this is actually a step in the application process.”
“Yes, it is,” Giblin said. “We can’t answer those questions specifically until we have an agreement with LMUD … The interconnection agreement has no bearing on approval either way … this is just us putting the pieces together to allow that process to start.”
Luhring characterized LMUD as “the responsible agency” and said the publicly owned utility district would have every opportunity to comment on the project.
17 June 2008