Regulation of Altamont wind turbines, with an eye toward reducing bird deaths, has moved ahead.
Twenty-four turbines that pose the highest risks to raptors must be removed by April 25. Four high-risk turbines owned by ESI Energy will be kept, in exchange for having removed 10 other turbines, at a little lower risk count.
The highest risk-turbines are in categories 9 and 10. The 10 turbines already removed as part of the swap with ESI were at 8.5 and 8.0.
More turbine removal must be completed by Feb. 15, 2012, after an Alameda County-established Scientific Review Committee (SRC) determines on-the ground conditions of high-risk turbines ranked at 8.5. No number is listed in the new Adaptive Management Plan (AMP) that governs the conditions, because the SRC must complete its report on it first.
The East County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) unanimously approved the AMP at its meeting March 10. That date started the clock ticking for the wind-tower removal deadlines.
The plan resulted from the settlement of a suit by the Golden Gate Audubon Society and the state Attorney General’s office against the county and three wind-power companies in 2005.
The lawsuit demanded a 50 percent reduction in avian mortality by November 2009, figured on a baseline of 1300 bird deaths annually, as found in an earlier study. The SRC found that the goal was not met by November 2009.
Instead, re-powering the Altamont, by replacing old turbines with new ones, will be the solution, says the settlement and the AMP. The new turbines are much larger, so fewer of them are needed to produce the same amount of power. That is expected to lower the number of birds killed.
Mike Lynes, conservation director for Golden Gate Audubon, said, “Overall, we are very pleased with (the agreement). The Audubon chapters decided to support repowering, provided that the new ones are put in with proper siting, and are monitored.”
Rich Cimino of Pleasanton, who is conservation chair for the Ohlone Audubon, added, “The local Audubon has been involved for the last 12 years. We’re glad it’s coming to a conclusion on re-powering. We want to expedite it, and work long-term with the turbine people to reduce the raptor deaths.”
The biggest wind firm in the Altamont, NextEra, which formerly was known as FPL (Florida Power and Light), wants to start repowering soon. That desire provided momentum to complete the negotiations, said Lynes.
NextEra has already begun a repowering project in the Contra Costa portion of the Altamont. AWI, another major firm, also is interested. Alameda County is conducting environmental studies for their projects. However, the application might not be ready for a year, said a county planning official.
MEASURE D OBJECTION
OVER SOLAR SITE
The Altamont is a green energy center that includes solar power as well.
At its Jan. 19 meeting, the zoning board of adjustment approved Greenvolts application for a solar installation on 20 acres on Kelso Road, one-third of a mile west of Mountain House Road.
The panel’s vote was 2-1 with Jim Goss and Jon Harvey voting to grant the permit, and Larry Gosselin opposed.
Measure D co-chair Dick Schneider told the board that he opposed the permit. Unlike the wind towers, solar arrays are not a Measure D exception for large-parcel agricultural zoning.
Measure D also deleted from the county plan “industrial uses appropriate for remote areas and determined to be compatible with agriculture,” said Schneider.
As a private, commercial solar electricity plant, the application clearly is an industrial use, said Schneider.
The applicant said the company may grow some vegetables there, or graze animals. He said that 50 percent of the array area can be used for pasture.
Gosselin said that he agreed with Schneider that there were other sites suitable for industrial use.
Harvey pointed out that the site is appropriately located next to a PG&E substation. He said that the Board of Supervisors can address the general plan issue as to compatabilty with Measure D.
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