After a short hiatus, developers of the Walker Ridge Wind Park are again moving forward with the project.
AltaGas – a Calgary-based business – has filed a new plan with the US Bureau of Land Management in Ukiah to construct a wind park saddling Lake and Colusa counties on Walker Ridge.
The plan includes 29 turbines, road improvements, cement pads for the turbines, a collector system, a substation and a transmission line from the turbines to the pre-existing PG&E transmission lines.
The company had gotten through initial hearings for the necessary permits from BLM, but halted the project in 2011 due to a combination of staff changes in the company and a need to rewrite the plan to cater to the quickly developing technologies.
According to Brock John, the new project manager for AltaGas, the plan was too restrictive.
“We could see the technologies were changing and the way the path of the permit was going, it was going to be too re strictive,” said Brock, who visited Colusa County last week.
During 2010 and 2011, some opposition to the project developed, mainly due to concerns of potential impacts to wildflowers in the area, as well as birds and other wildlife habitat. In addition, the area is used for recreational activities.
“There will be an impact to some degree,” said Brock.
Brock said the concern for birds is more an issue for migratory birds than resident birds.
“Local birds will not get involved with the turbine because they seem to identify that there is something new and they just avoid it. Oftentimes its the migrating birds that will get into trouble because it’s not in their reference library that the thing is here.”
He said in the case of Walker Ridge, the migration routes are down in the valley and not at the ridges.
Brock said other habitat impacts will be mitigated, meaning BLM may direct the company to restore habitat in another area to offset the impacts of their project. Opponents argue that does little good for the areas directly impacted.
Brock said that wildflower impact would be minimal because most of the flowers aren’t on the ridge.
However, to transport large construction equipment and turbines on long trucks, the company will have to expand Walker Ridge Road and in a few cases remove sections of the hills adjacent to the road.
Tuleyome, a Woodland-based conservation organization, doesn’t yet have a position on the altered proposal.
They are waiting for the draft environmental impact statement to be released by BLM, according to Bob Schnider, who is senior policy director for Tuleyome.
He said their goal is to assure that mitigation is enforceable.
“We know it’s a very sensitive area, but we also appreciate the need for renewable energy,” said Schnider.
According to Jesus Arredondo, a project consultant for the wind park, after construction, most of the area will still be accessible to the public, which does raise safety concerns as visitors currently use areas on Walker Ridge for target practice.
The project would employee 150 workers during the construction period, and according to Brock and Arredondo, the company will strive to use local labor.
In addition, Arredondo told the Williams City Council on Feb. 20 that the company will use Williams as a base during construction due to the proximity to Interstate 5, bringing business to the town.
Six to eight people would be employed long-term to maintain and operate the wind park and the company may have an office in Williams.
Colusa and Lake counties would split tax revenues generated by the project.
According to Arredondo, the county line has never been surveyed at that location, so they don’t actually know which turbines in the plan are in which county.
Colusa County could gain revenue in three ways. The county would collect annual property tax for the site, sales tax if the company purchases the necessary equipment in the county, and maybe a tax on the energy generated and sold to the grid depending on the purchase agreement.
According to Supervisor Kim Dolbow Vann, who met with Brock last week, the county estimates it will receive approximately $40,000 in property tax annually, and $150,000 in sales tax during the first year.
“It sounds like a good project. It fulfills some standards for renewable (energy),” Vann said.
Brock anticipates receiving the draft environmental study from the BLM in late April or May, which will trigger a public comment period and hearings.
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