Alta Windpower Development LLC, one of the biggest movers in Kern County’s exploding alternative energy industry, chose to yank its 200-megawatt Pahnamid project off the table last week part way through a $138,000 environmental impact study of the project.
The cheering in Tehachapi was still going on Monday as opponents of the unpopular 7,106-acre proposal, which would have lined many of the ridges south of the mountain city with windmills, celebrated what they see as their victory over a large international corporation.
Alta’s decision came after Kern County Planning and Community Development Director Lorelei Oviatt told the company late last week she wouldn’t be supporting their project and after Supervisor Zack Scrivner had already expressed his opposition as well.
“Merely because I make a recommendation to them doesn’t mean they have to stop processing. It was their choice to withdraw the project,” Oviatt said.
Oviatt said the plan to site 400-foot-tall wind turbine towers along the ridgelines south of Tehachapi “fundamentally changes the character of the valley. It is the backdrop of the city of Tehachapi.”
She said she cautioned Alta, when company executives first brought the project forward last year, that the site was problematic.
Her position was solidified as she made visits to the development site and drove past Tehachapi on her daily commute to Bakersfield.
Scrivner said he received overwhelming input in opposition to the project from his constituents before writing an opinion letter to the Tehachapi News in May opposing the project.
“I’m extremely supportive of wind energy in Kern County,” Scrivner said. “But we have to make sure when we’re siting these projects that we’re siting them in the appropriate locations.”
Opponents of the project hailed Scrivner’s effort and cheered the exit of the project.
“You have 99 percent of the population that was against (Pahnamid),” said Bob Moran, a Sand Canyon resident who protested against the project at a Scrivner campaign fundraising event at a Bear Valley winery earlier this month. “I feel he did a great job. He looked at it from the standpoint of the constituents and what they wanted.”
Attorney Kassandra McQuillen said there are tons of cultural resources on the private property where the project was planned. She thinks it must have been something drastic and unexpected that changed Alta’s mind.
Both Alta and Scrivner had made it clear to her, McQuillen said, that they intended to see the environmental impact report completed before they made any decisions about the project.
“In my opinion they were not going to back down from this project,” McQuillen said.
But, following Oviatt’s statement to Alta, company Vice President Randy Hoyle penned a terse letter withdrawing the project from consideration and asking the county to terminate all environmental studies and return as much of the $138,000 environmental fee to Alta as possible.
Alta officials did not respond to calls seeking comment Monday.
County Supervising Planner Chris Mynk said smaller projects are pulled all the time in the development world.
But he acknowledged that the occurrence is rare on major projects from major developers.
“It’s not a common occurrence but the process does allow for a developer to stop,” he said.
Oviatt said the opposition to the Pahnamid project has no carry-over impact on a host of other wind energy and solar projects currently under review by her department.
And Alta will continue to have a major role in Kern’s alternative energy future.
Alta has already begun installing the 1,100 megawatts of wind turbines that have been approved by the Kern County Board of Supervisors – more than any other developer in the county.
Google and Citibank recently announced an additional $204 million in Alta wind projects in Tehachapi, on top of an earlier $110 million investment, according to the Associated Press.
An additional 560 megawatts of Alta Windpower turbines – not including the machines envisioned in the Pahnamid project – are still in the planning process, according to Kern County Planning documents.