Neighbors in Sand Canyon say it’s the wrong place for more wind machines, but Helo Energy says it has a good, though misunderstood, proposal.
Residents in the group Friends of Sand Canyon have a batch of concerns, and they’re holding their next meeting Saturday, July 9.
“This is an industrial complex moving into my neighborhood, and it doesn’t belong here,” resident George Young told Eyewitness News. He stood near the entrance to the canyon at Dr. Beverly Billingsley’s veterinarian clinic and pointed at the area where the wind machines are planned.
“We need to get out more, and outreach more,” Helo spokeswoman Diane Oglesby told Eyewitness News. She said Helo owns the 300 acres where the wind turbines are planned. Neighbors have heard 17 very big windmills could be put in their area, and that’s just the beginning of their concerns.
“There is flexibility as far as the number, size and location,” Oglesby said. “I think that’s something that the residents need to understand.” The spokeswoman said the plan is for “up to” 17 turbines.
But, residents also worry at how big the machines will be. In documents filed with Kern County, Helo said the turbines would “not exceed 500 feet.” That worries Billingsley. “They’re higher than the space shuttle at launch,” she said.
“They are going to be tall turbines,” Oglesby responded. “But again, there is some flexibility as to the size.”
The neighbors worry how close the turbines will be to homes and roads, especially Sand Canyon Road. Oglesby said the windmills would be at least 500 feet from the road.
Residents are concerned about access on their road, and what will happen if an accident or construction blocks it. “It’s a safety issue for us, because this is our only access in and out of the canyon,” Shelly Young said. The neighbors say it’s a box canyon.
Ogelsby said Helo is looking at providing alternate access, and told Eyewitness News the company would study how to build that. “It wouldn’t be necessarily a paved road in and out,” Ogelsby said. “But it would be an alternate route.”
That issue is a real sore spot after an incident neighbors say happened about 18 months ago. George Young pointed to wind machines already in place near Highway 58, where a turbine “snapped.”
“It started spinning out of control, that shut down the road for four or five hours,” Young said. He said during that period, two emergencies came up and ambulances tried to get to the area, “neither could get through.”
Then, there’s the canyon itself. Neighbors say it’s all wrong for wind machines. “This is a flood plain,” Shelly Young said. She said Cache Creek is known to flood every 10 to 15 years. “It’s sedimentary soil,” Billingsley added.
But, Oglesby said Helo engineers have studied those concerns.
“The canyon area, from a hydraulic engineering perspective is not unique nor does it pose any challenges,” Ogelsby responded by email, citing a company report. “The turbine siting will follow (Kern) County setbacks as it relates to Cache Creek, at the same time the footings will be engineered to withstand any possible flooding concerns.”
Residents have more concerns about the machines themselves. They worry about blades flying off the windmills, fires being started by the machines and problems that might require the nearby roads to shut down.
“These are state-of-the-art turbines,” Ogelsby responded to the concerns. “These turbines are much safer (than older ones), the technology keeps improving.”
Billingsley is not convinced.
“They’re still mechanical,” she complained. “There will be malfunctions, and so the malfunctions could put us in harm’s way.”
The neighbors worry about impacts on birds, areas considered significant to Native American people, and proximity to earthquake faults.
Ogelsby said resident concerns have been prompted by worries over the much larger Pahnamid Project that recently pulled out. She said Helo is a small California company, with a much smaller proposal.
The company’s plans now call for producing 20 megawatts, which would power between 10,000 and 15,000 homes, according to Ogelsby.
“Now it’s time for us to be diligent and put our focus on the residents,” Ogelsby said Tuesday. “They have questions for us.”
The spokeswoman was asked if resident input could cause Helo to change its plans. “Yes, they have a say in this,” Ogelsby responded. “But, within reason.”
The project is now in the environmental review process, and it eventually has to go Kern County officials to get a zone change approved.
“I’d like Helo to gracefully bow out,” Billingsley said. “And say, ‘Maybe this wasn’t the best place for wind turbines.'”
But, Ogelsby said the company wants to meet with residents, hopefully in small groups, to get their message out. “Be patient, let us get the facts out.”
These neighbors don’t like what they’ve heard so far.
“We’re not against wind energy,” Shelly Young said. “We’re against the placement of these projects in our restful area.”
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