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A hard wind blows in favor of turbine approvals  

Credit:  BY LOIS HENRY, Californian Columnist, The Bakersfield Californian, www.bakersfield.com 14 January 2012 ~~

The only time I ever see government get a move on is for two reasons: money or politics.

Call me jaded, but I suspect those are the twin engines propelling the county’s full-speed-ahead rush to draw a new wind energy map.

And, as usual, when those two forces combine, the public is left in the dust.

On the money side, a key wind energy tax credit is set to expire at the end of this year. That action will sharply curtail new projects and the attendant flush of property taxes enjoyed by the county over the last few years as wind projects have mushroomed in Tehachapi.

On the political side, Supervisor Zack Scrivner alternately wants to cozy up to wealthy landowners and businesses with spare cash to contribute to his future campaign efforts. At the same time, he can’t afford to totally snub area residents who are more actively opposing ill-placed and environmentally insensitive wind turbines.

Hence the map.

On Nov. 8, Scrivner directed the Planning Department to come up with a new wind resources map that would “limit” where wind projects could be developed. County planners quietly posted the map on their website in mid-December. And it comes to the full Board of Supervisors Jan. 31.

Wow. Makes you wonder why government can’t do everything that fast.

Probably because they usually have to allow more time for public involvement. In this case, the public has had only a few weeks to learn about and digest the new map. There was only one public presentation at the Tehachapi Municipal Advisory Council last week. No others are planned.

Couple of things on this new map.

First, while it does constrict potential wind development south of Highway 58, it nearly triples the wind area north and west of Tehachapi.

That expansion was done at the request of a wind developer and the Broome Family Trust, owner of the Loop Ranch, County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt told me.

John Broome, manager of the trust, said the trust does not have any agreements with wind companies. But, yes, he has talked with the county and met with Scrivner about the map.

Scrivner did not return my call.

Hmmm. This would appear to be the “politics engine” mentioned earlier.

Second, the new map would have legal weight, unlike the old wind map.

The new map, if the board desires, could become an overlying zoning ordinance, meaning land inside its boundaries could be considered for wind projects. Land outside its boundaries could not, Oviatt said.

“This map doesn’t promise a wind project to anyone,” Oviatt stressed.

Each project would still have to get a specific zone change and go through years of environmental review.

While she insisted the map/zoning ordinance wouldn’t “fast track” projects, I have to believe it streamlines the process.

Otherwise, why not wait until the public has a full understanding of the map and its significance?

Not to mention, there are two scientific studies underway looking at the best places and practices for wind development in California, including the Tehachapis, based on sensitive habitat, species, historic and existing communities.

Why not wait for those result before cutting land in or out of possible wind use?

Because, Oviatt said, those studies would take too long considering the looming tax credit expiration, “As well, the rush for commitments of the last transmission capacity will not wait.”

So, the map/zoning ordinance’s greased lightning timeline is about facilitating projects.

Which would be the “money engine” you hear purring in the background.

Oviatt repeatedly told me supervisors only wanted to “give peace of mind” to homeowners weary of fighting against wind energy projects.

“The board’s intention was very clear – to give residents certainty,” Oviatt said.

Uh huh.

Supervisors could easily give residents peace of mind by listening to their concerns and denying or altering inappropriate projects.

Along with “certainty,” that might also forestall lawsuits such as the one the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity filed against the county for its approval in September of two massive wind projects that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also warned the county against approving.

It’s not the first time the service pleaded for a little more talk and a lot less action from Kern on wind energy.

“The service requests that the county of Kern exercise extreme caution in developing wind energy within the Tehachapi area because it falls within the range of the California Condor,” a senior biologist wrote to Oviatt in 2009, according to documents obtained by Forbes Magazine and published in a Jan. 16 article on wind’s potential conflict with condors as the endangered species’ territory expands.

Initial public reaction to the county’s new wind map echoed that sentiment.

The Tehachapi Municipal Advisory Council meeting last week was crammed with more than 200 area residents, hot with emotion and full of questions.

Kelso Valley resident Josh Boswell chastised planning staffers for presenting a map that gave residents no real information to form an opinion.

“Where are the transmission lines? Where are the substations and roads?” he asked in reference to key factors that planning staff said they considered when drawing the map boundaries. “You don’t have the condor range on here or The Nature Conservancy lands.”

And two weeks, he said, wasn’t nearly enough time for the public to present cogent comments to supervisors.

There was confusion even on the wind energy side.

“Some people are OK with it,” Linda Parker, executive director of the Kern Wind Energy Association told me. “But some are wondering why we need a boundary map. Are you going to have one for oil production too?”

(No map for oil but one for solar is in the works, stay tuned.)

Phil Wyman, whose family ranch was cut out of the new map, was very concerned. His ranch was recently the center of the Pahnamid controversy in which wind company Terra-Gen had proposed putting turbines on mountains behind Tehachapi.

Terra-Gen withdrew that project.

Wyman said county staff was directed to cut every project that had previously been withdrawn out of the new map.

That essentially holds his property hostage.

“Mistakes were made,” he acknowledged, referring to turbines proposed on the front slopes of his ranch marring the Tehachapi viewshed. “But that shouldn’t keep us from going back to the drawing board and resubmitting a project that would be acceptable.”

Oviatt told me this map was only a first draft. In fact, her staff will be presenting different map options at the Jan. 31st Supervisors’ meeting.

These new map options will go on the planning department’s website at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, only a few days before the meeting.

Not to worry, Oviatt told me.

If supervisors proceed with a zoning ordinance, the issue will go to the planning commission and then back to the board, so there will be plenty of time for the public to intercede, she said.

I don’t know. With those political and money engines revving up to full speed, I really doubt the public will get more than a whiff of nitro as this map/zoning ordinance blasts by.

Source:  BY LOIS HENRY, Californian Columnist, The Bakersfield Californian, www.bakersfield.com 14 January 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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