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Lompoc wind farm gets two more years

The Bedford family lost yet another battle against the Lompoc Wind Farm project on May 15, when the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission upheld a decision to extend the project’s conditional use permit for a second two-year time extension due to economic hardship.

George and Cheryl Bedford live on a property close to the 3,000-acre plot of land slated for the wind farm, about six miles south of Lompoc. They’ve fought the project since the planning commission first approved it in September 2008.

The Bedfords filed a 2009 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court against the conditional use permit approved by the county Board of Supervisors in February 2009. The court denied the petition, and the Bedfords appealed it. The California Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling.

The first two-year economic hardship extension granted to Pacific Renewable Energy Generation for the Lompoc Wind Farm wasn’t appealed, but the Bedfords did challenge the most recent extension. They argued that the use permit’s language says it has expired.

Kevin Drude, supervising planner with the county, said although the permit does have an expiration date, there are caveats that allow for an extension, and economic hardship is one of them.

“It’s a bona fide reason,” Drude said. “There’s no reason not to grant the extension.”

Although the project has made some progress, there’s still a list of things that need to be taken care of, said John Stahl, a representative for Pacific Renewable Energy. The most important on that list is financing loans and signing a contract with Pacific Gas and Electric.

“It’s been really hard to get bank loans,” Stahl said. “But things are loosening up right now.”

He said the project will potentially cost $120 to $150 million, depending on how many turbines the company decides to stick in the ground. The permit allows for 65 wind turbines producing a maximum of 97 megawatts, or enough energy to power 40,000 households.

But to power those households, the farm needs an electricity provider to buy the mega watts. Stahl said PG&E has been reluctant to sign a contract with the wind farm because of the economy. Things are starting to take shape, though; the companies are currently in the middle of negotiating a contract.

In addition to giving the company time to find financiers, Stahl said the two-year extension will allow time to sew together the last few pieces of the project, which include final environmental and archaeological mitigation proposals and compliance plans that need county and federal approval.