PLEASANTON – A decision to allow an often-criticized wind power provider in the Altamont to swap out old turbines with modern, more bird-friendly models was postponed Thursday amid the concerns of environmentalists and homeowners.
Members of the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments made it clear they were supportive of the spirit of the proposal from Altamont Winds but had qualms about the how far seven of the turbines would be set back from homes and nearby Brushy Peak. The reservations were significant enough to ask for further information.
Altamont Winds wants to swap out 569 of its old turbines with 33 new ones in the eastern Altamont hills, between the Contra Costa County line and Interstate 580. The company is one of four wind operations in the Altamont, which has been referred to as the “black eye of wind power” because of its high number of bird deaths.
Altamont Winds Vice President Bill Damon told the board that the project would have a positive effect in the area and help reduce bird fatalities.
“The ratio is one new wind turbine for 17 removed,” he said.
The hearing was attended by two camps who were critical of the proposal: bird lovers and homeowners in the area.
Shani Kleinhaus, a member of the Santa Clara Audubon Society, said Altamont Winds needed to be more forthcoming about its process of selecting the sites for its turbines.
“This is an issue with transparency and trust,” she said.
Pam Young of the Golden Gate Audubon Society said Altamont Winds has showed far less interest than its Altamont counterparts about ensuring wind turbines don’t unnecessarily kill birds.
The company lost the trust of environmental groups when it didn’t agree to a 2007 settlement between conservationists and the other three companies operating in the Altamont.
Residents who live close to the turbines told the board that the addition of larger turbines would disrupt their lives.
“The Great Pyramid of Giza is the same size of one of these windmills,” said Darryl Mueller, who lives near the proposed location. “They’re huge.”
His neighbor John Soares agreed, saying that he already lives with constant noise from wind turbines and the larger turbines would increase the sound.
“Put them anywhere you want to put them, just don’t put them in our neighborhood,” Soares said.
An attorney for the East Bay Park District asked the board to ensure that one turbine close to Brushy Peak was set back further.
The two board members present were Larry Gosselin and Jon Harvey, both of whom agreed to the delay.
Gosselin was also critical of the fact that neither he nor the public was allowed to view a report commissioned by Altamont Winds on turbine site selection. According to the company, the report, authored by biologist Shawn Smallwood, was subject to a confidentiality agreement.
The proposal will next be considered on Dec. 10.
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