LANCASTER – Signaling they won’t approve giant wind turbines on hillsides and farmland south and west of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors stopped two alternative energy developers from putting up a series of 200-foot-tall meteorological data-collecting towers on their project sites.
The decision, which was made unanimously by the five-member board, could result in the end of one proposed project and a massive redesign of another as county officials said the ruling shows the supervisors are concerned about dangers the tall structures pose.
“We definitely had an issue with 198-foot-tall ‘met’ towers,” said Edel Vizcarra, who serves as 5th District County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich’s planning deputy. “The wind turbines pose another set of questions.”
The vote was a victory for residents of the far western Antelope Valley who are fighting to keep their communities free from what they describe as “an ocean of solar panels” and hillsides covered with wind turbines.
However, county officials drew a distinction between the wind turbines and solar-power projects proposed elsewhere in the rural western Valley communities. Vizcarra said there are several solar projects in the area that are moving through the planning process swiftly.
“Some people might not like them, but typically you’re going to accept a solar project over a wind project where you don’t have the same impacts to the wildlife,” he said.
Tony Bell, an Antonovich spokesman, added: “Wind and solar are two very different things.”
While thousands of wind turbines exist in the Kern County portion of the Antelope Valley north of Avenue A, and more are coming, there are no wind-energy farms south of Avenue A. Previous wind farm proposals as long ago as the 1980s were blocked by Los Angeles County officials after community opposition.
The board’s vote overruled an earlier decision by the county’s Planning Commission, which awarded a conditional-use permit to two companies – Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources and Oregon-based Element Power – allowing them to erect 198-foot-tall test towers on their respective project sites.
Vizcarra said the companies already are using 60-foot-tall test towers to collect data and may continue to do so because no permit is required for such structures shorter than 80 feet in height.
Speaking to the board, representatives from Element Power said by denying the taller test towers, the county is preventing the company from properly studying and preparing an environmental impact report for the proposal.
“This is about doing the environmental assessment and doing the studies which are necessary to make the determination as to whether it is appropriate to site wind towers here,” said Jerry Neuman, an attorney representing Element Power. “This is like putting up a traffic line to get an accurate traffic count.”
Nat Parker, the company’s project manager for Element’s proposed Wildflower Green Energy Farm in the area of 170th Street West and Lancaster Road, said he understands there will be effects on the community, but said the western Antelope Valley “boasts the most powerful peak load wind resource in the state.”
Element Power’s project proposes a mix of solar and wind energy, and county officials said it is possible the company will redesign its proposal.
Parker did not return phone and email messages seeking comment Tuesday after the hearing.
Designs for NextEra’s Blue Sky Wind Energy Center called for as many as 90 500-foot-tall wind turbines on its approximately 7,500-acre site, which sits on Portal Ridge next to the proposed Element Power site.
Representatives from the company were not at Tuesday’s hearing, and their conditional-use permit was denied, too.
Speaking to the board Tuesday, residents voiced concerns about potentially negative environmental impacts the projects will have on wildlife and plant life in the area, as well as the effect on the rural landscape.
Many also referred to a Fairmont Town Council meeting last week during which many residents urged council members to oppose the project formally with a letter to the board. The council, they said, took no position on the project.
Some residents said the council had already begun negotiating a community benefits package with Element Power and other companies that could net the community millions of dollars over a period of several years. The money, they said, would be in exchange for the council’s support in building the projects.
“There’s so much corruption and so much money,” said Jeff Olesh, who identified himself as a longtime resident of the Lakes and Fairmont area. “At this point, Fairmont is being offered – not on paper but verbally – $2 million. It was common knowledge that (Element) had offered the Fairmont Town Council $2 million if they don’t oppose the wind turbines. So their vote in non-opposition of the met towers is a result of this $2 million hanging out there.”
Kings Canyon resident Judy Watson said the Fairmont Town Council showed a “total disregard to the community” in failing to convey residents’ comments to the county in a formal manner.
About 25 people watched the public hearing from a satellite viewing area at the Lancaster Library. Many addressed the Board of Supervisors from a camera set up in the room. Others spoke in the Los Angeles board meeting room.
Those who were sitting in the Lancaster library watching the meeting on a television screen stood and cheered loudly after Antonovich’s motion to deny the project was supported unanimously by the board’s other four members.
The board made its decision two months after delaying the hearing. An Antonovich aide said the supervisor asked for the continuation so county planning staff could study the environmental impacts of the test towers.
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