You gotta give credit when it’s due and I think the county has earned at least a little with its new and improved proposed wind energy boundary map.
If I sound grudging with my praise, it’s only because there’s a world of difference between what’s proposed and what may eventually pop out of the oven once the Board of Supervisors is done with it.
You may recall that I and several others took the Kern County Planning Department to serious task last January for rushing a wind boundary map to supervisors without giving the public any time to understand it, much less form cogent comments.
That map greatly expanded potential wind territory to the north and west of Tehachapi, generally the Twin Oaks area. That is very rugged country and intense road building would be required to even get the equipment needed to build the 500-foot wind turbines up there.
More importantly, the California condor has been moving into that area (even hanging out on chimneys in Bear Valley) in recent years and golden eagles are also well established there.
While golden eagles are a federally protected species, it’s the condor that could really gum up the works for wind. Fines come with unintentional eagle kills. A condor kill, however, could land someone in jail.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had already warned Kern County against placing other wind projects in the mountains to the north of Tehachapi. And one project, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s massive Pine Tree project, has already killed several golden eagles, exactly as opponents of the project had feared.
So the January wind map boundary expansion into exactly that area caused quite a ruckus.
The revamped map, released Tuesday evening on the planning department’s website, totally cuts out that northwest expansion. That means land owned by the city of Vernon is excluded as is the large, historic Loop Ranch.
“No, the landowners are not happy with this,” Oviatt said.
The map also trims out some areas near Sand Canyon that had already been zoned for wind and slices off the area just south of Tehachapi on mountains that serve as the town’s backdrop.
So far, most people I’ve talked to are cautiously pleased with this new map.
“I was very impressed,” said Garry George of the state Audubon Society. “I think they really listened to people and took time to understand the wildlife conservation issues and the difficulties of building in those higher elevations.”
Indeed, Oviatt told me, she spent the last six months meeting with groups of people all over the wind energy area.
“Groups of two or 10 or 80,” she said. “I wanted to make sure every sector, including the wind companies, had the opportunity to sit down with me in a more personal environment and have a discussion so I could see all sides of this.”
Regardless of the outcome or what you may think of her conclusions, that kind of effort has to be respected, applauded and encouraged for all government officials. Excellent work.
OK, happy moment over.
Even those who liked the map had their concerns, suspicions even.
Mostly, those concerns centered on what the map actually means, legally speaking.
“It appears that the county has made an about-face from trying to fast track broad new wind energy zoning, to fast tracking far less new wind energy zoning,” said local attorney Tim Kleier, who owns a ranch in the Twin Oaks area and is a representative of Ranchers for Responsible Conservation.
Oviatt insisted the map wouldn’t fast track anything.
The map will not change the zoning inside its boundaries, she said. Wind companies inside the boundaries will still have to request a zone change and go through the full land development and environmental review process.
The maps’ boundaries simply tell wind companies and land owners where the county will find it acceptable for them to seek a project and where the county will not find it acceptable.
“If you’re outside the lines, you can’t even ask for wind,” she said.
That sounds simple and clear. But as the Audubon’s George asked, “What mechanisms would make that durable?”
Oviatt herself said a change in wind turbine technology could reopen the Twin Oaks area to future development.
She anticipated that turbines would grow more efficient at lower heights and possibly use technology that would eliminate the need for the garish red blinking lights.
And they could be made to be much more bird-friendly, alleviating the condor fears.
But that would be for a future Board of Supervisors to consider.
Of course, that’s what worries people. Politicians are known to sway whatever direction the campaign donations blow, so to speak.
So, some people felt the new and improved map would ultimately be much ado about nothing.
Whether the map is a moot exercise or something that will give residents and wind companies some certainty into the future, I’m glad the county stepped back and did it right.
Government working with the public always creates a better outcome.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian.
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