Through a series of three votes, the Board of Supervisors adopted two ordinances Wednesday that could speed up decisions on wind turbine development in the county and certified the environmental impact report relating to the changes.
With the adopted wind ordinances and the passage of two general plan amendments, the supervisors wrapped up on Wednesday what was scheduled to be considered a week before.
A submission of documents hours before the supervisors’ May 8 meeting from attorney Stephan Volker – representing opponents of wind energy expansion near their East County neighborhoods – stalled the hearing by a week but provided no substantively new information as it would relate to concerns addressed by county staff reports already, Deputy County Counsel Claudia Anzures said before the supervisors moved onto discussion.
The general plan amendments added flexibility for large-turbine wind energy projects in the Boulevard Subregional Planning Area and for small wind turbine projects in the Borrego Springs area.
The supervisors came to a consensus on the changes affecting small wind turbine development, passing a countywide zoning ordinance amendment to allow for ministerial permitting of wind turbine systems of 50-kilowatt capacity or smaller that comply with height designators. The vote was a unanimous 5-0.
“It’s going to have a similar effect as what we’re doing with solar,” Vice Chair Dianne Jacob said. “At least it gives people a choice,” she added, since the small residential-sized installations will be permitted without discretionary review.
Jacob wasn’t as supportive of the changes for large turbine development.
Noting her general disapproval of large-turbine wind energy projects, the East County supervisor was the only vote against both the amended large turbine zoning ordinance – a countywide framework that will now use an adopted wind resource map as a planning tool, and the general plan amendment modifying the Boulevard Community Plan.
The amendment to the Boulevard Community Plan, she said, was “very wrong,” and went against all efforts made during the more than 10-year development of the county’s general plan to keep the area from being developed.
She said that if the plan was to develop the region around Boulevard, such a plan should have been developed when the county general plan was being drafted – not years later.
“It will simply industrialize our backcountry region,” Jacob said.
Supervisor Dave Roberts didn’t view it the same way.
“This does not approve one turbine,” Roberts said of the amended large turbine ordinance. “All it does is approve a process for us to follow.”
He did agree with Jacob in regard to fire concerns, though, vowing to vote against any proposed development that doesn’t have sufficient fire mitigation measures attached.
Jacob said fire concerns can’t be mitigated with large turbines, regardless of extensive effort.
“The large turbines compromise aerial firefighting,” she said, rendering useless any attempt to extinguish a fire in a turbine-laden area because the fire retardant and water drops are ineffective from a height of more than 300 feet.
Jacob was also alone in voting against certification of the environmental impact report covering all of the zoning and general plan amendments, citing 24 instances within the document where unavoidable impacts are noted.
In a presentation to the supervisors last week, county staff unveiled the new wind resource map that could serve as a reference to the supervisors when considering future large turbine developments. The map, according to Matt Schneider of the county’s department of Planning & Development Services, identified about 193,000 acres of wind resource area in the unincorporated areas of the county.
“Utility-scale wind development is generally targeted to the best wind resource areas,” Schneider said, classified as good, excellent, outstanding or superb. “Approximately 39,000 acres, or slightly less than 5 percent of the county’s wind resource area, fall into one of these categories.”
The areas shown to have the greatest wind potential include those around Campo and Boulevard, Ocotillo Wells, Ranchita, Portrero, the Manzanita Indian Reservation, spots northwest of Pine Valley and scattered areas along and south of state Route 78 from Ramona to Julian.
The amended large turbine zoning ordinance maintained the requirement for a major-use permit to be granted, but changed the ordinance to make projects’ maximum allowable turbine heights established through the discretionary permit process. The new ordinance also provided for waivers in certain areas to project setback requirements, intended to protect neighborhoods from the low-frequency noise created by the large turbines.
Mark Wardlaw, director of Planning & Development Services, said the county has found no evidence of negative health effects from the noise, despite claims to the contrary from local groups opposing turbine development.
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