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Testing the wind; Developers building test towers in the county

In the wake of the first wind turbine project going online last year, energy developers have proposed five more meteorological test stations in Shasta County to determine if the area can support more wind turbines.

Those meteorological towers would bring the total to nine, including the four test stations already set up in the mountains south of Highway 299 and west of Highway 89.

Pacific Wind Development LLC has proposed erecting five “mets,” as the towers are called, extending north from the current wind turbine project on Hatchet Ridge up to near the Siskiyou County line.

An additional four mets have been approved and erected south of Highway 299 and north of Highway 44, said Bill Walker, a senior planner in the Shasta County Planning Department.

Walker said the towers have an anemometer that transmits information about the wind by radio. The information is used to determine if the location would be a good place to install wind turbines, Walker said.

Steve Fitch of Cottonwood said he would be against further wind development if wind turbines were built in locations that detracted from the scenery of the area.

Fitch, former supervisor of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, said he opposed the turbines on Hatchet Ridge west of Burney.

“They distract from the natural scenery,” Fitch said. “The visual quality of the area needs to be considered.”

The met towers are about 197-feet-tall, about half the size of the 418-foot-tall wind turbines at Hatchet Ridge. In comparison, the Shasta County jail is 97 feet tall.

Forty-four of the wind turbines were erected last year on Hatchet Ridge west of Burney. When county officials took comments from area residents about the project, many Burney residents complained the turbines would ruin the view.

Officials with Pacific Wind Development could not be reached by phone or email to comment on the wind testing stations.

Joan Heredia with Enel Green Power, which has proposed building the mets in the Whitmore-Round Mountain area, referred questions to a company representative who did not respond to requests for information.

A spokesman for RES America, which has a met tower near Round Mountain, said the tower has only been up for the past nine months. RES America developed the Hatchet Ridge wind project, which is now owned by Pattern Energy.

“Typically, this data is collected over a number of years to ensure the information is thorough and complete. At this point, it would be too early in the collection process to discuss the quality of data,” RES spokesman Scott Dunaway said by email.

Among north state counties, Shasta County seems to be getting the most attention from wind energy developers. Planning officials in Tehama and Trinity counties said they haven’t received applications to build met towers in those counties.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. received approval last month to build a met tower in southeast Siskiyou County, said Greg Plucker, deputy director of planning.

Pattern officials are happy with the electrical production from the wind project, saying it has lived up to the potential they had envisioned before the project went online last year.

They would not elaborate, however, on how much power is being generated by the turbines. They were hoping to generate 103 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 40,000 homes.

“The Hatchet Ridge Wind project is performing very well and is meeting our expectations and budget,” CEO Mike Garland said by email. He said Pattern has no plans to expand in the north state.

Along with measuring wind quality, the firms study birds and bats to see how many live in the area around the testing stations at various times of the year, Walker said. One of the concerns about the Hatchet Ridge project was the number and type of birds that would be killed by the turbines.

A study by Tetra Tech of Portland, Ore., says 45 bats and birds were killed from March 29 to June 14. Another nine birds were killed by the turbines from Jan. 10 to March 12, the study says. The report does not mention bats killed from January to March.

No threatened or endangered species – such as bald eagles or sand hill cranes – were found killed by the turbines, the report says.