August 1, 2013

Giant wind turbines OK’d

Written by D.L. Taylor | August 1, 2013 |

A pair of massive wind turbines to be erected just outside of Gonzales was given the green light by county officials Tuesday, despite claims that Monterey County downplayed significant impacts on the surrounding community.

The action Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors was important because it rewrote laws governing how large turbines can be in Monterey County. 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 turbines will each be more than a football field high and will power a planned commercial development just outside the city limits called Vista de Santa Lucia. Dubbed an “artisan winemaking village,” the broader project will include an agricultural business park and visitors center, according to the project website. It will also provide additional winery stores and a temperature-controlled warehouse and refrigeration systems for winemakers.

The power for the project will be generated by the wind turbines. The decision this week only involved the turbines and not the future development.

The project applicant is Herbert Meyer, who owns the land under the turbines and who farmed nearly 600 acres of asparagus, lettuce, celery, cauliflower and cabbage, according to county Planning Department documents. In 2003 the county approved subdividing the property into minimum 40 acre parcels for estate planning purposes.

“No change in uses are anticipated,” wrote the planner involved in the project in 2003.

The pair of three-blade rotors will stand between 327.5 feet and 396.5 feet. From goal line to goal line, a football field is 300 feet long. The prior ordinance capped the height at 200 feet.

One of the most vocal and tenacious opponents has been Nina Beety, a Monterey activist who battled Pacific Gas & Electric Co. over the implementation of smart meters because of the electromagnetic radiation they produce. She delivered reams of research to county planners outlining both the harm the turbines would cause to human health as well as the deadly nature of massive spinning blades on wildlife.

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

At issue was a May determination by planning staff – adopted by the Planning Commission – that the turbines would create no significant environmental harm, called a negative declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Beety appealed the decision, citing contradicting research involving harm to wildlife, noise and its effects on human health, as well as a deterrent to tourism.

Planners responded by noting there have been no recorded or documented sightings of condors – an endangered species – flying below 200 meters near the project site, meaning they fly above the spinning blades. The one occurrence that was documented was far to the south by King City.

Other birds, including the California horned lark, which is on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “watch list,” are deterred from nesting near the site because of ongoing farming operations, planners said.

The Planning Commission added a condition to its approval that for a three-year period – beginning when construction is completed – biological monitoring must be conducted by a qualified wildlife biologist. The data will be submitted to planners on a quarterly basis for the first year and then semiannually for the next two years.

The monitoring will provide the county with data it can use on the operations of wind turbines in the Salinas Valley, planners said.

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