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The county’s big wind map? It’s a lot of hot air  

Credit:  Lois Henry, The Bakersfield Californian, www.bakersfield.com 30 January 2012 ~~

I have some advice for Kern County Supervisors who on Tuesday will be mulling what to do with a proposed wind resources map: scrap it!

The map doesn’t – at least it shouldn’t – put anyone’s mind at ease about where wind projects won’t be allowed, as Supervisor Zack Scrivner and county planning department officials have tried to sell it.

Quite the opposite.

The map is nothing but a shameful ploy to distract residents. But I’ll come back to that.

Here’s why I say it won’t prohibit wind projects outside its boundaries.

If Supervisors agree on Tuesday that they want a wind boundary and pick one of the several map options, planning staff will then “recommend the map be included as part of Chapter 19.64 Wind Energy Combining District of the Kern County Zoning Ordinance,” according to the department’s report to Supervisors.

That ordinance says it’s OK to combine wind projects with several other zone categories, such as agriculture, industrial, natural resource and a few others.

Adding the map wouldn’t eliminate the other zone categories.

Craig Murphy, the Planning Department’s Wind Division Chief, told me I had it all wrong.

He says if supervisors go forward with a map and it’s placed in the zoning ordinance, it would be THE wind zone.

“So, if your property isn’t in this boundary, don’t even ask,” he said of potential wind projects.

He likened it to owning property in an R1 (single family residence) area and wanting to build a high density project.

“Legally, you can’t request that,” he said.

Uh, dude, this is Kern County, developers do that kind of stuff all the time. And, this being Kern County, nine times out of 10, they get their way.

Even the planning department’s presentation on the map to residents in Tehachapi earlier this month said the map would be a “guide” to future projects. A guide.

Several weeks ago Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt told me the proposed map could be similar to a “specific plan.”

A specific plan is supposed to lay out acceptable development patterns for certain areas.

Believe me, they aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. If they were, we Rosedale residents would have trails for horseback riding and some semblence of a “rural characteristic,” instead of strip malls and snarled traffic.

So, no, do not trust that the lines on this map are anything more than just that, lines on a map.

But back to why I called the map a shameful ploy.

Aside from the fact it guarantees nothing, almost all the map options extend the acceptable wind boundary much further north and west than the old unofficial wind map.

Though county officials have repeatedly told residents there are no new projects under application in that area, I gotta wonder why those boundaries were moved.

Oviatt told me the westernmost edge was moved at the request of the Broome Family Trust, which owns the large Loop Ranch. And John Broome, manager of the trust, confirmed to me that the trust had been in discussion with wind energy companies.

Then there’s the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which already has a massive project south of Jawbone Canyon, called Pine Tree. LADWP has been poking around land further to the west for some time now.

Though LADWP spokeswoman Carol Tucker wouldn’t tell me what the municipal utility had planned, she did say in my interview with her last year that the agency was doing preliminary studies on an expansion project called Pine Canyon and was trading information back and forth with the Bureau of Land Management on possible projects even further west.

This fall LADWP released a draft environmental impact report on the proposed expansion of its transmission lines on the eastern slope of the Tehachapi mountains running south to the San Fernando Valley.

“The proposed Barren Ridge Renewable Transmission Project will provide about 1,100 megawatts of additional power transmission capacity,” an LADWP press release said.

The Pine Tree project cranks out 120 megawatts and Pine Canyon, if it comes to fruition, would be about the same. So, it would seem the utility expects a lot more wind power will need transmission space in the near future.

Which brings us to the City of Vernon project.

It would be huge, 175 megawatts, and cover thousands of acres west of the North Sky River project.

Kern County Planning officials told residents they had no knowledge of this project based on applications in their office.

Yet, even the most limited version of the proposed wind boundary map pushes far enough to the west to make sure that Vernon project is covered.

And minutes from a Vernon City Council meeting last April show the city’s consulting and engineering vendors had “had constructive communication with (Kern) County’s Planning and Building Departments” and had begun pulling permits to put up towers for meterological studies to collect wind data to map their turbine placement.

In a Sept. 20 meeting, Vernon City Council members were informed that an EIR on the project would start in December and be ready for public comments by June 2012. Again, the minutes mention that Vernon consultants had been in touch with Kern officials.

Construction on the Vernon project is expected to begin in February 2013, according to the city’s minutes.

Vernon’s flak told me the city was still “weighing it’s options.”

Uh huh.

And Kern’s wind division chief said he had “no personal knowledge” of the City of Vernon’s nor LADWP’s activities.

Oh come on!

All I did was Google it, for cripes sake.

If you think concerns over wind projects is just whiny mountain folk worried about their “viewsheds,” you need to get up there and see what these projects do to the landscape. Particularly the very rugged country north of Tehachapi where these massive projects are hovering.

&dcFour;The projects literally tear the land apart, which can’t be helped really when you’re plopping 500-foot towers atop jagged ridgelines.

In the Pine Tree project, for example, windmill developers had to cut 35 miles of switchbacks to cover five miles in some areas. And some hilltops were lopped clean off for pads to hold those monster towers.

If that’s a possibility for the hillsides and ridges above the people who live in Twin Oaks, Kelso Valley and the Piute Mountains (not to mention those of us who like to visit that area), they deserve to be told by their own county.

But Vernon’s and LADWP’s involvement creates a ticklish situation for Kern since, being public entities, the L.A.-area agencies neither have to pay property taxes nor do they have to jump through Kern’s environmental and land use hoops.

So, why be accommodating and secretive on their behalf?

I can’t be sure, but perhaps Kern is figuring a way to get at least some fees out of the projects, as it did when PG&E was trying to buy a private wind project from a Spanish company.

Fearing the property tax loss, Kern concocted deal under which PG&E agreed to pay $5,000 per turbine per year for the life of the project or the taxes, which ever was higher.

PG&E didn’t buy the project, but Kern learned a neat new trick to keep money coming to our coffers regardless of who owned the project.

I asked Wind Chief Murphy if perhaps Kern was negotiating such a deal with Vernon or LADWP.

“That [the PG&E deal] was a private company selling to a public utility,” he said. “It would be different with Vernon.” He quickly added that he knew nothing of Vernon’s project whatsoever.

Yeah, right.

Which brings me back to THE MAP and how all this intersects.

If the county’s not going to be straight with us about wind projects that are clearly on the launch pad, there’s no way I trust them to be straight with us about what this proposed map really means.

So, I say, scrap the map.

Instead, Supervisors should “put residents’ minds at ease” by dealing with them fairly, openly and honestly.

Source:  Lois Henry, The Bakersfield Californian, www.bakersfield.com 30 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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