Kern County supervisors approved the Alta East wind energy project near Mojave Tuesday, including a requirement that it use high-tech tools to protect condors.
The project could produce up to 318 megawatts of electrical energy from 106 wind turbines. That’s enough to power about 95,000 households in a year, according to Linda Parker of the Kern Wind Energy Association.
The project is medium-sized when compared to some of the other major projects in Kern’s wind energy area, including earlier phases of the Alta Wind effort.
Only 568 acres of the more than 2,592-acre project is under county jurisdiction. The rest is on public land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.
But according to Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt, the restrictions Kern County placed on the project will apply to the sections on BLM land as well.
Those restrictions include a new way of attempting to protect the endangered California condor from being hit by spinning turbine blades.
The county will require developer Terra-Gen Power to install a monitoring system designed to detect condors outfitted with radio transmitters and have a person shut off wind turbines if the birds get too close.
Oviatt said the condors have not been seen over the project site but the county is requiring the radio-monitoring system because condors could move into the area in the future.
But the system has limitations, officials from the Center for Biological Diversity wrote in a letter to the county Tuesday. “Only about half of the free-flying condors” have radio transmitters, the environmental group said.
Oviatt agreed the project still poses a significant threat to birds and said that county supervisors would be acknowledging that threat if they approved it.
Only two speakers raised opposition to the project.
Speaker Barbara Hoffman said the project extends the damaging impacts of industrial wind development to the Mojave Desert and complained that the county routinely ignores the serious impacts these projects will have.
Mike Fortuna of Mojave said the Alta Project has been broken up into small bits and passed bit by bit in an effort to avoid acknowledging just how damaging wind development is to the environment and the community of Mojave specifically.
Oviatt countered that by saying Terra-Gen Power couldn’t lock down the property deals needed to propose all the Alta developments at once.
In addition, she said, the environmental review of the Alta East project included the total environmental impacts of all wind energy development in the area.
Supervisors uniformly supported the project.
“I understand, being a person who lives in the desert, the adverse impacts,” said Supervisor Mick Gleason.
But the project developer is being required to do all it can to limit the seriousness of those impacts, Gleason said.