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Energy companies testing the potential of wind power in eastern Shasta County

The same company that built the Hatchet Ridge wind power project in eastern Shasta County is testing the potential for more turbines nearby.

RES Americas of Colorado set up a meteorological tower, or “met” tower, last month at the east end of Terry Mill Road near Round Mountain. It’s a place locals call Windy Point.

It’s in the same rural section of Shasta County where residents successfully fought the massive Transmission Agency of Northern California power line plan 1½ years ago. The landscape around Round Mountain, Montgomery Creek and Burney already is defined by power lines, substations and, now, wind turbines. Residents are now questioning whether they and their neighbors are willing to live with more.

RES Americas will gather wind data for at least a year before any plans are drafted for a new project, said Tom Hiester, vice president of development for the company.

“We don’t know if there is a viable resource or not,” he said.

Windy Point isn’t the only place around Shasta County that could someday be home to turbines. While RES Americas installed the one met tower there, Italy-based Enel put up four other towers last year – two along Tamarack Road south of Burney, one near Whitmore and one near Ono.

The number of potential projects demonstrates the potential wind power companies see in the Shasta County air. It’s not just the wind that’s attractive – they also envision transmission lines for turbine-generated power and county leaders likely to approve their projects.

Hatchet the first

Bill Walker, a senior planner who has worked for the county since 1988, said he’d seen only a couple of permit applications for wind power in his first 17 years on the job. And those were for small systems.

“Just the ones that you see around people’s homes,” he said.

That changed in 2005, when RES Americas showed interest in Hatchet Ridge, overlooking Burney. After years of study, tense public meetings and final approval by the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, Hatchet Ridge now stands as the only large wind power project in the county.

Whether more towers and turbines will follow depends on what the met towers tell RES Americas and Enel.

Walker said the companies haven’t given any indications yet of how big their projects would be.

“They haven’t submitted anything yet,” he said.

Wind companies generally build projects that produce at least 50 megawatts – enough power for about 20,000 homes – said Nancy Rader, spokeswoman for the California Wind Energy Association. The cost of going through the permitting process is typically around $10 million, so the companies want the projects to produce enough power to make them worth the investment.

“In recent years the project sizes seem to be in the 100-megawatt range or higher,” said Rader, who lobbies for the industry.

Hatchet Ridge’s 44 turbines produce 103 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 40,000 homes.

Testing the wind

RES Americas’ Hiester, said it’s too early to tell whether Windy Point will produce a project and how big it might be if it does.

“You can’t get a sense for the total size of the project until you get a sense of the wind resource,” said Hiester.

Along with the wind, companies look for sites near transmission lines and places where county leaders are likely to permit a project.

While the companies wait for the wind data, two other criteria appear to be in place in eastern Shasta County.

A trans-state 500-kilovolt power transmission line runs close to Hatchet Ridge, Windy Point and the sites Enel is considering.

Having already gone through the wind power debate and the approval of Hatchet Ridge project, Shasta County supervisors are primed to support more, said Shasta County Supervisor Glenn Hawes.

“It’s good, clean energy,” Hawes said.

Unlike the large gas and wood-burning power plants, which use steam to propel their turbines, wind power projects require no state approval, said Amy Morgan, a spokeswoman for the state Energy Commission. Cities and counties hold the final approval for wind projects.

TANC all over again

That’s not to say that public outcry couldn’t sway the supervisors toward rejecting a wind power project. Just ask the opponents of a power transmission line TANC once planned to build through Round Mountain, over other north state towns and south to Santa Clara.

People from Round Mountain, Anderson, Cottonwood, Maxwell, Davis and more joined Stop TANC, a vocal grass-roots group, to fight the planned power line project. The TANC lines would have crossed over homes and ranches owned by many Stop TANC members, said Lisa Hanaway of Round Mountain.

The public’s resistance helped doom TANC, and, one by one, the public utilities that had planned the project, including Redding Electric Utility, withdrew support. The agency canceled the project in July 2009.

While she doesn’t have power lines hanging over her home, Hanaway said she has a clear view of the Hatchet Ridge wind turbines. She doesn’t want to see any more.

She said she’s ready to reorganize the group that stopped TANC to halt any more wind projects.

I want to “make sure they know that Stop TANC will become stop ‘whoever they are,’ ” Hanaway said.

She opposed TANC and will oppose more wind projects because the power they carry or produce isn’t for the people close by, she said, although they’re the ones who have to live with the eyesores that generate and transmit the energy.

“We do need to have alternative energy,” Hanaway said. “But this is not the way to do it.”

Another member of Stop TANC, Randy Compton of Round Mountain, says he’ll wait to see what the project would look like before deciding whether to fight.

“I need to see a plan, and I need to hear what my neighbors say in a discussion,” Compton said.

But his experience with the TANC proposal did alert him to more potential power projects in the area. The TANC map showed a link to wind power at Windy Point.

[rest of article available at source]