Residents and ranchers alike packed the Ferndale City Hall to voice their increasing disapproval of the Shell Wind Bear River Wind Turbine Project presented by staff from HSU’s Schatz Energy Lab and Shell’s WindEnergy, Inc.
The fourth such meeting held on the controversial project, Shell WindEnergy had asked the Ferndale City Council not to make any decisions at Thursday’s council meeting. Ferndale City staff, however, had previously recommended the council direct Humboldt County officials to ‘re-scope’ the project, asking for updated information from the various agencies involved due to changes made since January’ 2010s original scoping document.
Ferndale Mayor Jeff Farley asked the public to hold back any applause and address questions and issues directly to the council. After the 4-hour meeting concluded, the Ferndale City Council voted unanimously sending two ‘letters of concern’ to the County: asking County officials to reevaluate the project’s scope, and opposing the transport of turbine equipment through Ferndale’s streets.
The council, Farley said, wants the County to take another look at the project’s impact on noise, traffic, air quality, and property values, and to obtain a more detailed evaluation of the costs of decommissioning the wind farm. Farley claims Ferndale hasn’t received answers to these questions, especially how the city will be adversely affected by the large concrete, dump, and water trucks, cranes and other vehicles transporting heavy equipment through the streets of Ferndale to the project’s site on Bear Ridge, 6 miles south of town. Shell representatives visiting the council earlier provided updated information including the potential option of using helicopters to bring in components.
The Ferndale City Council ultimately decided not to oppose the wind turbine project altogether until it reviews the information contained in the environmental impact report to be released this spring.
The Times-Standard quoted Mayor Farley summing up the city councils’ recommendation this way: “We said, ‘no, we’re not going to do that’ because the EIR isn’t out yet and we want more information. At this point, we’re not getting the answers as fast as we want. This isn’t their first rodeo for wind turbines.”
Ferndale City Manager Jay Parrish said most of the council’s concerns involve the impact of transportation, but the city is open to hearing about alternatives. “I think the council in general approves of alternative energy systems, but when it’s in your backyard, you need to look at it real close,” Parrish said.
Shell WindEnergy Response
Pana Ratana, Business Development Advisor for Shell WindEnergy, said that “the company understands the community’s concerns and the council’s wishes to have more information, it’s simply too early for the council to take a position opposing any of the project’s components,” according to the Times-Standard.
“We are disappointed that the city of Ferndale has decided to take any position on the transportation plan at this time. The city council is making a premature decision based largely on incomplete information. We will continue with our plans to host an open house in the spring to provide the latest information and updates,” Ratana said.
The Proposed Project, Plans and Merits
Shell WindEnergy’s project proposes installing approximately 25 wind turbines on private property along Bear River Ridge above Ferndale and Rio Dell, producing 50-75 megawatts of generation capacity– enough renewable electricity to power over 18,000 homes. The project’s boosters claim the wind farm will bring in millions of investment dollars from Shell Wind over the next 20 years, plus 120 full time employees during construction and six to 12 full time employees to maintain the wind farm.
The project’s equipment would be barged into Humboldt Bay, unloaded at a yet-to-be determined offloading site, and trucked down Highway 101. According to the North Coast Journal article by Keith Easthouse, Shell has analyzed five different routes: three going through or near Ferndale, and two going out of Rio Dell. All have their inherent problems. Helicoptering of components to the site is a possible option—but only in part.
It’s expected that large trucks would make 850 trips to deliver components and another 2,500 trucks would be needed for construction. 3 million gallons of water would be needed. Construction vehicles would make 60 round trips daily through Ferndale, as proposed. Five miles of new road would be built for use during construction, along with three weather towers, a power-collection system, a substation and 12 miles of new power lines. The turbine blades are 150 feet long, the towers rising nearly 260 feet tall, and each of the 3 tower pieces, shipped separately, run 85 feet in length. The housing generators at the top of the towers, called nacelles, weigh 40 tons apiece—and would be undeliverable by helicopter due to their immense weight.
Humboldt County Senior Planner John Miller said the County wants Shell to do a more detailed analysis of how the turbine components will be transported to the ridge before completing the draft environmental impact report. “The trucks are fairly long, so they need to narrow down what roads need to be improved,” he said, adding that Pacific Gas and Electric is also involved working on how power will get to the regional grid.
Blight, Environment, and Energy Concerns
Some critics of the project, including residents of Ferndale, believe the project will do nothing to enhance energy availability for Ferndale citizens– and that the presence of windmills will blight the landscape.
Then there are the environmental concerns. According to the Northcoast Environmental Center article by Sarah O’Leary, while the wind turbine generators would produce electrical power with less carbon impact on the atmosphere than fossil fuels, the blades could harm imperiled species, including bats, migrating birds, spotted owls and commuting marbled murrelets.
Just how much renewable energy will be generated by this project and where will it be delivered is another matter to be considered. Jim Zoellick of HSU’s Schatz Energy Center said that the answer is far more complicated than turbines simply generating power for 18,000 homes. “The power generated locally would go into the local grid,” Zoellick said, adding that a complicated accounting process allows different entities to actually receive the credit for the renewable energy.
Zoellick gave the example of the new Blue Lake Biomass Plant, which sells its power to San Diego Gas & Electric. The power is not actually shipped to San Diego, he explained, but that company receives credit to help it meet state requirements for renewable energy generation. Zoellick said that if energy generated by renewable sources – such as wind projects, biomass and even wave energy – should exceed Humboldt County’s needs then the first plant to have output turned down would be PG&E. He noted that climate change is the biggest environmental threat of all. “More than anything, we need energy efficiency and conservation. There are no easy answers and no choices that have no impacts,” Zoellick said.
Shell WindEnergy will finish studying the transportation issues raised by the Ferndale city council and determine whether to proceed with the Bear River Turbine Project—with or without Ferndale’s approval– in the last half of 2012. The project, if given the green light and not hitting further roadblocks, could possibly be finished by 2014 depending how cooperative Ferndale’s residents and city council are in warming up to Shell’s proposed plans of allowing transportation through their town.
They admit, however, that the wind project’s approval ultimately lies within the County’s larger sphere of influence and jurisdiction– and not necessarily the little Victorian village itself.
“We’ve been doing fine since 1854 without Shell,” Ferndale Councilman Ken Mierzwa noted during Thursday’s city council session, voicing his disapproval.
(The Times-Standard, Humboldt Beacon, Ferndale Enterprise, Northcoast Environmental Center, the North Coast Journal, National Wind Watch, Humboldt County Community Services Department and the Humboldt Herald contributed to this report)
Comments from around the local web:
“The wind technology can’t pay for itself. The turbines are subsidized by the government green scam dollars. A natural ridge line will be forever polluted by these turbines. Bird migration will be hindered too. All for a few mags of power. It is not worth the effort. But some workers will have a job and the manufacturer will reap millions in transferred wealth.”
“The wind farm will benefit its landlords. That’s about it. The county has a brand-new gas fueled plant at King Salmon – and its own supply of gas.”
“While the new power plant supplies much of electrical needs the county has (almost) NO redundancy for our electricity and gas demands. The “all our eggs in one basket” approach to energy use seems both foolish and shortsighted. We live in far too volatile and remote an area to get away with that strategy for long.”
“Aren’t these the same people who shout ‘Drill Baby Drill’ when it comes to oil?”
“Everyone that knows anything about birds knows that wind turbines kill thousands of birds. It takes an especially heavy toll on raptors.”
“Just like Walmart: if the people don’t want it, it shouldn’t be forced on them.”
“I prefer wind turbines on a ridge to oil derricks offshore. The turbines of today don’t pose the same danger to birds as the older ones did and certainly not the level of threat posed by oil spills.”
“So where will the First District Supervisor candidates (Annette De Modena and Rex Bohn) fall on this issue? This could become a very interesting discussion.”
“Labeling industrial wind-driven Electricity Generation Installations as farms is a bit misleading. Wind isn’t “farmed”. Corn is farmed. Wind is harnessed and electricity is generated. These installations are power plants with substations. 1-2% of electricity is created from foreign oil (search it). And to date, coal plants remain online in order to support wind-driven plants coming online with fluctuating supply (search it).”
“The Ferndale City Council Decision was MONUMENTAL. They actually listened to the people who elected them: the people who will be impacted by this project. Thousands and thousands of vehicle trips, (10,000 plus) during the middle of the summer and tourist season traversing the streets of Ferndale. Streets that have clay infrastructure pipes. And streets that certainly were not built to handle 340,000 lb nacelles being transported upon 13 axle, 72 tire, articulated vehicles that require a 40′ clear span to transport certain parts of this project. There is absolutely no benefit to the town of Ferndale except for the bribes Shell WindEnergy offers under the name of a community investment program. But for the general population there are lots of reasons why the citizens of Ferndale overwhelmingly asked its council to say NO TRANSPORTATION thru Ferndale.”
Additional Information about the Bear River Wind Turbine project can be found here:
The Schatz Energy Research Center Turbine Project 3-D Visualization Tool and Tour
The National Wind Watch website of archived articles
The Northcoast Environmental Center
The North Coast Journal
The Humboldt Herald
The County of Humboldt Community Services Department website and related links
The BRW Project proposal, Humboldt County Planning Department pdf, 2009
The US Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Report of Proposed EIR and EIS
Hank Sims and the Lost Coast Outpost have an interesting take– and reader’s comments– in their September 21 column, Shell Wind Project: Ferndale Has Plenty of Hot Air
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) striking photograph of Wind Turbines Churning the Air Over the North Sea (credit and thanks to Ponder z)