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Fate of wind turbines plan on deck

A plan to construct a pair of industrial wind turbines in Gonzales that will be more than a football field high is slated to go before the Monterey County Planning Commission on Wednesday, and the project is not without critics.

Because of prevailing winds coming in from Monterey Bay that are funneled down the Salinas Valley, wind turbines have often been discussed as an ideal source of clean energy in Monterey County. The project going before the planning commission this week is a joint venture between the city of Gonzales and developer Herbert Myer.

The energy produced from the turbines will be used to power the proposed Vista de Santa Lucia Agricultural Business Park and Visitor Center within the city limits of Gonzales.

The turbines will stand between 327.5 feet and 396.5 feet. From goal line to goal line, a football field is 300 feet long. County ordinances now cap the height at 200 feet, so the developers are asking the commission to extend the county law to accommodate the larger structures.

Planners are recommending the commission approve the ordinance change and approve what’s called a “negative declaration,” meaning the project would have no serious environmental impacts.

Wind turbines, particularly the three-bladed type proposed for Gonzales, have been scrutinized by environmentalists because they can be deadly to birds, including the endangered California condor. Birds do not have a visual perspective that allows them to see the chopping motion of the blades as a danger and subsequently fly into them.

Nina Beety, a Monterey activist who battled Pacific Gas & Electric Co. over the implementation of smart meters because of the electromagnetic radiation they produce, is waging a campaign against the huge wind turbines. In a letter to The Californian, Beety cited a laundry list of concerns about approving the project.

“Turbines maim and kill birds and bats,” she wrote. “Condors are at risk, especially since they are not solitary birds, but fly together.”

She went on to say that turbines catch fire and are difficult to extinguish because of their height. She argues that mishaps occur where turbines collapse in strong winds and that blades can fly off, citing a letter from an Australian senator named Chris Beck.

County planning staff wrote in a report to the commission that an environmental review of the project show no major impacts, and recommend the negative declaration. However, staff noted that seven species of birds, including one on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Watch List were spotted in the area.

Staff wrote a statement in the commissioner’s report that says “due to their susceptibility to impacts with wind turbines” numerous species of raptors, from condors to kites, were addressed in the environmental study. But in the same paragraph, staff wrote that “none of these species is anticipated to experience impacts related to the development of the wind turbines.”

The county Department of Health’s Environmental Health Bureau wrote a letter to planning staff raising concerns about the noise level generated by the turbines on “noise sensitive” locations in the surrounding area, such as residential developments, schools and libraries.

Planning staff indicated that they presented “evidence from the project file that showed that noise sensitive locations are not within the vicinity of the proposed project site.”

The issue is scheduled to be taken up by the planning commission when it meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Supervisors Chambers located at 168 West Alisal St., 1st Floor, in Salinas.