LAKEPORT, Calif. – Community members had a chance to ask questions of company and government officials Thursday as part of a public scoping meeting for a proposed wind park on Walker Ridge east of Clearlake Oaks.
The Bureau of Land Management hosted the meeting to discuss the project proposed by AltaGas Renewable Energy Pacific Inc., a company based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
About 40 people gathered in the Board of Supervisors chambers at the Lake County Courthouse in Lakeport to hear more details of the proposed park, which would be located on about 8,000 acres straddling the ridgetop of Walker Ridge and the boundary of Lake and Colusa counties. A similar meeting was planned for Colusa Friday.
The project covers two congressional districts – those of Mike Thompson and Wally Herger – as well as the state Senate districts of Patricia Wiggins and Sam Aanestad, and Wes Chesbro’s and Jim Nielsen’s state Assembly districts, officials reported.
Peter Eaton, AltaGas’ director of project development, explained during the meeting that the company wants to locate 29 Siemens wind turbines, each 2.3 megawatts and manufactured in the United States, on the BLM property.
The project would generate up to 70 megawatts and would cost between $2 million and $3 million per megawatt to build, Eaton said.
The BLM would lease the land to the company for between 20 and 30 years – BLM officials said it would depend on the length allowed in a new energy policy set to come out. Construction is proposed to begin in early 2012.
Rich Burns, manager of BLM’s Ukiah field office, called it a “great turnout” for the Thursday meeting.
He explained the history of wind project proposals for areas managed by the BLM Ukiah Field Office. Four locations – Berryessa Peak, The Geysers, the Knoxville area and Walker Ridge – all were identified as having potential for wind generation in the BLM’s most recent resource management plan completed several years ago.
At that time, GE was proposing to do a wind farm in the Walker Ridge area, he said, and had put in a lease application to study the wind.
“In all honesty, they were probably No. 4 out of what has been five companies over time” exploring wind production possibilities in the area, he said.
He pointed to a map of the Walker Ridge area, showing its orientation near Indian Valley Reservoir and said it was a 40-minute drive from Lakeport.
About a year ago AltaGas submitted an application to study wind on Walker Ridge, installing four anemometers, instruments used for measuring wind. “They’re feeling that the opportunity exists for the development of a wind farm,” he said.
The application has proposed between 29 and 41 turbines; Burns said original wind production calculations for the area estimated a capacity of 100 turbines.
The company’s plan of development for the project is available on its Web site at www.altagas.ca/walker_ridge_wind_park and on the BLM Web site at www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/ukiah/Walker_Ridge_Wind_Project.html.
Burns said the document considers environmental concerns, animals, soils and visual impacts, among other factors.
He said the BLM has extended to Oct. 13 the comment period for public input on what issues should be addressed in the environmental impact statement that will be prepared on the wind park proposal.
In addition, there will be public comment period on the environmental document once it’s completed, he said.
During a question and answer period, BLM Renewable Energy Project Manager Ashley Conrad-Saydah explained that the final acreage on the project could shift as its refined during the application process.
She said there would be construction compliance monitoring and ongoing monitoring over the life of the project.
Community member Mike Dunlap asked about restrictions on public use once the turbines are in place.
“We consider wind to be part of a multiuse strategy,” said Conrad-Saydah, with it working well along with hunting, grazing and recreation, unlike solar projects, which don’t allow for other activities on the same property.
Dunlap followed up by asking about the length of the lease, which had been estimated to be between 20 and 30 years. Conrad-Saydah said a new federal wind policy is expected to be released. “I’m hedging because I don’t know what the new policy will say.”
He also wanted to know what would happen at the end of the lease. Would BLM own the turbines, and could they still be used? She said she didn’t yet have an answer, but it was noted by AltaGas associates that the life of the turbines isn’t beyond 30 years.
BLM officials said AltaGas would get first right of renewal as long as everything in the project was in compliance.
Eaton also gave a brief presentation.
“We’re delighted to be here, we’re delighted to learn more about the site,” he said, adding, “Our intention is to be your good neighbors for a long period of time.”
He said AltaGas has been around since 1994, and began as a company processing natural gas. In 2006 they began moving toward wind and renewable energy. From a longterm corporate strategy, they like to see stable assets, he said.
AltaGas currently has wind projects totaling about 1,500 megawatts under development, with three proposed in California, he said.
As for Walker Ridge, AltaGas has confirmed that the area has a good wind supply, Eaton said. The area also has energy transmission facilities nearby, there is good access for construction, and it’s located in jurisdictions which Eaton said have favorable market and regulatory conditions.
He said the company developed its first wind farm, Bear Mountain Wind Park, in British Columbia. It became operational Oct. 24, 2009.
Eaton estimated the project’s maximum workforce during construction would be about 200 people, with a permanent workforce on site of four to five long-term jobs.
He said of the turbines, which are several hundred feet high, “These are gentle giants. They need care, they need attention,” and must be monitored due to the wear and tear of high winds.
The estimate about permanent jobs, it was pointed out, had been changed from a smaller number in the original project documents.
A series of environmental and biological studies looking at everything from raptors to botany are under way on the area, BLM officials said.
Burns said he always has found Walker Ridge fascinating for its geology, which is heavy in serpentine. He said different universities have described it as a biological hot spot.
He said BLM also has met with several tribes – among them, Elem Colony and Big Valley Rancheria in Lake County, the Cortina Wintun in Colusa County and Rumsey Rancheria in Yolo County.
While no tribal land is involved, Burns said there are “nation to nation dynamics” involved.
The Walker Fire in 2008, which scorched 14,500 acres, and the more recent Indian Fire, which burned 363 acres, illustrated the kinds of protections needed in the area, which he said BLM considers one of biological concern.
Many other agencies – including the Army Corps of Engineers – will be involved in the process, said Burns.
They’re also mindful that “recreation is huge” in the area. Horseback riding is popular there, as are off-highway vehicles, with about 70 miles of trails, Burns estimated, adding that BLM has only mapped 22 miles of trails.
Victoria Brandon of Lower Lake asked them about how far away from the wind farm they would look in gauging its impacts. Officials said visual issues would be assessed beginning from where the project can first be seen.
Pardee Bardwell of BLM said that, as of this time, there are no known federally listed specials in the area, but there are sensitive species or species of concern present.
Dunlap asked if they have to involve the Federal Aviation Administration. Conrad-Saydah said the FAA and the Department of Defense will consult on the plan.
Public comments on the plan should be sent to Bethney LeFebvre, BLM Ukiah Field Office, 2550 N. State St., Ukiah, CA 95482; telephone 707-468-4000; fax 707-468-4027; e-mail email@example.com .
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