If he was looking for a crowd, Cliff Graham of NextEra Energy Resources was not disappointed Saturday, April 2. A standing-room-only audience of over 150 people arrived by 8:30 a.m. to fill The Lakes Community Center, serving the Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth areas, south of Three Points.
They came to learn about the 492-foot wind turbines NextEra plans to install on a 7,000 acre parcel in the Western Antelope Valley. Graham says “only 150 acres, 2 percent, of the land will be covered by roads and 150 ‘next generation’ turbines.” He claims the sound level will be 50 decibels “at the nearest front door,” which he says “is about as loud as your bedroom at night.”
The 50db level is described by a University of Wisconsin engineering researcher as equivalent to a “quiet suburban area or a dishwasher in the next room.”
Project Manager Graham introduced SWCA Environmental Consultants’ David Daitch, Ph.D. who is supervising environmental impact report (EIR) studies on flora and fauna in the area for NextEra. Daitch said that the minimum study time will be one year, and that EIR studies for wind farms sometimes extend to three years.
Members of The Lakes community had specific concerns about how the turbines will affect the Golden eagles that fly their skies and nest nearby. Daitch said, in reassurance, that “Dr. Peter Bloom will be doing the raptor inventory.”
Eric Shabsis of Marathon Communications, Inc. will be handling community relations for the NextEra program. Margaret Rhyne of the Friends of Antelope Valley Open Space asked Shabsis to confirm whether he was intending to make “side deals” with small groups (such as the accord recently made by NRG Solar with the Fairmont Town Council).
Fhyne said she thought it would be more ethical for him to meet in large open sessions. Shabsis said he agreed, and that in the private meeting he had already shared with Rhyne, that topic had been discussed.
Norman Hickling, deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, referred the crowd to a new L.A. County Regional Planning draft that is online at the planning department’s website. He said the “Town and Country” draft provides an overview of development guidelines for the Western Antelope Valley, including The Lakes area.
When asked about concerns expressed by residents of the Fairmont-Neenach-Antelope Acres regions that L.A. County’s plan does not yet adequately address “the big picture” for renewable energy projects in the region, Hickling said, “It is a work in progress.”
Privately, skeptical residents said that the speed with which new solar and wind projects are rushing into the area is faster than the planning project “and it will be a ‘done deal’ before we have a real regional plan.”
NextEra however said it will do a full environmental impact report, investing in a study which L.A. County did not require of the NRG Solar project. Graham also said his company had been voted among “the most ethical” energy companies in the country and was praised by Forbes Magazine.
Jill Bays, of the Transition Habitat Conservancy, made a presentation after Graham. “It serves no one’s interests for a developer to sink millions of dollars into researching a site that is inappropriate for development,” she said.
Bays proposed that already-disturbed farm lands are preferable areas for solar and wind farms. She said that the site selected by NextEra, which will encroach up Portal Ridge, is a vital wildlife corridor connecting areas of the Angeles National Forest and the Transverse Range. She suggested that a review panel had determined that this area should not be disturbed.
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