LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – A Canadian corporation is continuing to pursue its plans to build a wind farm in an area on Walker Ridge straddling Lake and Colusa counties.
AltaGas of Calgary, Alberta, first submitted the proposal for the Walker Ridge Wind Park to the Bureau of Land Management in January 2010, as Lake County News has reported.
The project, as it’s currently envisioned, would be located within an 8,100-acre area of federally owned lands east of Clearlake Oaks. The BLM would lease the land to AltaGas.
The company’s plans call for a 60-to 70-megawatt clean energy wind generation project with 29 wind turbines. The amount of electricity generated would be enough to power 25,000 homes.
It’s a project, according to AltaGas, that could help California meet its clean energy needs.
Several community scoping meetings were held in Lake and Colusa counties and in Sacramento in 2010. Since then, work has been under way on the environmental impact statement for the project.
Rich Burns, manager of the BLM’s Ukiah Field Office, told Lake County News that the environmental impact statement is still in the works and that he did not have a timeframe for when it would be completed.
“Technically, it should have been out on the street well before now,” said Burns, adding that the report is at a “standstill.”
He said BLM is waiting for information from AltaGas in order to complete the environmental document and open it for public review.
In particular, Burns said BLM is seeking a range of options for the intertie site, where the power generated from the wind energy will be put into the transmission system and sent out of county. He said the intertie site resembles a small power substation.
Burns said AltaGas had, at one point, wanted to change its plan of development and use newer technology. He said BLM also worked with the corporation to come up with better project mitigations.
He said that the ball now is in AltaGas’s court as far as providing the information needed to finish the document, and he wasn’t sure if the company actually wanted to go forward. Burns pointed out that the company is fairly new in the renewables market.
However, AltaGas representative Brock John said the company does plan to move forward.
As for the project plans, “Really nothing has changed,” John told Lake County news in a phone interview.
Regarding where the project plans currently stand, “It essentially is the same as what we proposed, there have been some small tweaks here and there,” particularly with regard to mitigation strategies, he said.
While Burns indicated that the BLM was waiting for action by AltaGas, John indicated that the company believed the next step in the process to complete the environmental document was up to BLM.
“The draft EIS is their process, so they’re in control of the process,” said John, adding that AltaGas is responding to BLM’s requests.
John said that a finished environmental impact statement draft was expected soon – possibly later this month – with a few additional issues being addressed, including project impacts at at some locations, but nothing critical. He said they are trying to get a complete document.
He said the environmental review process in California is “significantly more detailed and time-consuming” than in other jurisdictions where the company has worked.
“But that’s understood and expected,” and is not an impediment to the project, John said.
Perhaps the greater challenge to the company’s plans is the economy.
John said low commodity prices do not support renewable projects like that proposed for Walker Ridge.
Because of low natural gas prices, power prices have been down generally throughout the United States, John said.
That makes it more difficult for renewable energy to compete, he added.
“It’s just part of the puzzle,” said John.
Bob Schneider, board member and senior policy director for Tuleyome, an organization working to protect 321,000 acres of public lands around the region, said he and members of the group met with AltaGas representatives about three months ago for what he called “a meet and greet.”
He said the company representatives indicated they were looking at taller turbines with bigger blades that rotate at slower speeds, as they wanted to get up to heights where there was enough wind.
Schneider said Tuleyome had expected to see the project’s environmental impact statement at the beginning of this month.
“We have heard nothing more than that,” he said.
“It’s a difficult project,” said Schneider. “We all like renewable energy and Walker Ridge is a special place.”
If AltaGas wants to do the project, they need to pay attention to a complete environmental process, said Schneider, adding that BLM needs to make sure the project’s mitigations are enforceable.
Tuleyome, said Schneider, doesn’t really have a position on the project itself. Instead, it is focusing on reviewing it.
“But we do feel the environmental process must be thorough and straight up, and the mitigations measurable and forcible,” he said.
He added, “We’ll focus purely on the environmental impacts and how they are mitigated.”
It’s important that the project itself be carefully vetted, as while AltaGas owns it now it could be sold at any time, Schneider said.
The Walker Ridge project is within the boundaries of the proposed Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area, which is one of Tuleyome’s main projects.
If the national conservation area designation was approved, Schneider said, the wind project could still happen. One doesn’t preclude the other, he added.
Once the environmental impact statement is released for public review, John said, the plan calls for there to be three different open houses in Lake, Colusa and Sacramento counties.
He said AltaGas hopes to get the document completed soon in order to move forward.
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