When you live next door to the likes of Los Angeles you learn to appreciate the old saying, “good fences make good neighbors.”
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a fence tall or long enough to keep Los Angeles out of Kern County, as evidenced by their penchant for pasting our farm lands with their sewer leavings.
Now, they’re after our mountain tops.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (oh yes, the same group of Owens Valley fame) has already built the nation’s largest municipally owned wind farm, known as the Pine Tree project, on 8,000 acres in eastern Kern County just south and east of Jawbone Canyon. It generates an estimated 120 megawatts of power.
The department bought another 12,000 acres nearby on which it hopes to expand, calling that its Pine Canyon project.
And LADWP has applications for more wind projects on Bureau of Land Management property, which is sprinkled throughout the area.
Without getting into the does-it-really-pencil-out arguments, the idea of renewable energy is great.
It’s a lofty goal, certainly, to create much-needed power from never-ending, never-fouling sources, such as wind and sun.
But (you knew I’d have a but, didn’t you?) LADWP needs to remember there are actual people living in Kern County, some even in the remote and rugged country LADWP is eyeing for its next natural resource grab.
Those people, who run cattle ranches, hunt and hike on that land, need to be included in discussions about how these proposed wind projects go forward and whether they should go forward.
So far, the only “formal” notice any of the surrounding landowners has received about LADWP’s grand plans has been in the form of a marker dropped by a helicopter surveying crew last April on the wrong property. Property that’s owned by a group of Bakersfield men.
After weeks of investigation, the men learned about all the various proposed wind farms that, if approved, would dominate the landscape, break up wildlife corridors and hinder cattle ranching operations.
They quickly formed Ranchers for Responsible Conservation and have tried to inject themselves into the process wherever possible, which has not proved wildly successful as LADWP continues dropping markers and even remote GPS survey equipment onto their land.
A spokeswoman for LADWP told me the Pine Canyon expansion is still being studied by the department so nothing official, such as an environmental assessment, has even been started. And the department’s applications to the BLM haven’t been formally accepted yet either.
As for trespassing on private lands, she said she couldn’t comment as she had no knowledge that had happened.
None of the private land holders has a dispute with renewable energy, per se, nor LADWP’s right to build what it wants on its own land, with proper zoning, permitting and mitigation, of course.
But the issue of BLM land is tricky, particularly considering it lies in splotches surrounded by private land and mostly covers the tips of rugged ridgelines.
Ranchers, hikers and others have free access to it now and it is home to a host of native habitat, wildlife and cultural artifacts such as Native American rock art.
All that should outweigh, or at least be given strong consideration, the benefits of wind farms that would require heavy hillside cutting and grading for roads and turbine platforms that would destroy the pristine environment, according to a hefty booklet, complete with exhibits, the ranchers’ group put together last May and sent to every public agency they could think of.
“I think the ranchers have very good, very legitimate issues,” said Lorelei Oviatt, Director of the Kern County Planning Department, which works closely with the burgeoning wind industry in the Tehachapi Wind Resource area.
The area LADWP is looking at for it’s Pine Canyon expansion is not currently zoned for wind energy, Oviatt said.
So the ranchers will have lots of opportunity to get their two cents in before anything’s approved.
“People often think, ‘Oh renewable energy, they’ll get whatever they want.’ And that’s not reality. We want to hear from neighboring property owners and work with them on their issues.”
Maybe so, said Paul Rodriguez, with the BLM’s Ridgecrest office. But Kern County doesn’t have jurisdiction over federal lands, even those surrounded by county lands.
OK, but wouldn’t LADWP or any wind company need county approval to access BLM islands?
“Well, we’re working with the county right now on those kinds of issues,” Rodriguez said.
Oviatt agreed that the feds don’t need county approval. But wind companies working on federal lands don’t want Kern as an opponent and have proved eager to cooperate when the county frowns on any part of their plans.
“Renewable energy is great for Kern County but we’ve been very careful to be accountable to the people who live in the area,” Oviatt said.
“BLM and LADWB should do the same.”
It is, after all, our backyard they’re playing in.
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