November 26, 2015

Board delays Altamont repowering, seeks more transparency in siting

The Independent | November 25, 2015 |

An application to repower a 5-square-mile section of the Altamont with up to 32 modern wind turbines has been continued to Dec. 10 in an effort to obtain more transparency concerning the science behind the decisions on where to site the turbines.

The East County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) met Nov. 19. It heard from applicant Altamont Wind LLC, Dyer Road residents, East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) representatives, and Alameda County staff on the application.

Board president Larry Gosselin and member Jon Harvey said they were glad to see repowering, and appeared to be leaning toward approval. However, the locations of some of the turbines came up as an issue. Gosselin and Harvey said that it is important to see the process more clearly and publicly in order to make decisions about seven potential wind turbines that may be problematical.

There is substantial data available in the county staff report. However, there was one stumbling block to transparency, said the BZA members. The Altamont Winds’ consultant, Shawn Smallwood, contends that he has his own methodology of locating the turbines. It can’t be shared publicly. However, the county’s consultant, Dave Dean, did have access to one copy of the report.

Gosselin said that there apparently is a way to obtain more information, without interfering with Smallwood’s proprietary interest. Staff will work up a presentation for the Dec. 10 meeting.

Testimony at the meeting centered on avian deaths, aesthetics of the turbines, and noise produced by the machines. There also were comments from a Native American organization that said there was little notice provided to them about the repowering. They want to study the proposal from the aspect of intrusion on cultural artifacts. After the project started, there would be an opportunity for them to comment on the field work, said staff.

EBRPD is glad to see repowering, to save avian lives, said assistant district counsel Kristina Kelchner. However, three turbines will be closer to Brushy Peak than the law allows without a variance. Kelchner said it is important to protect Brushy Peak as “an important scenic resource, one of the most important in East County. A lot of public dollars went into acquiring that area.”

Pam Young, chair of the Audubon Society’s East Bay Conservation Committee, said the application is not ready to go ahead, speaking to the transparency issue. There is a lack of information on biological resources, especially bird impact, in looking at the projection plan (for turbine location). Young said the consultant’s mathematical conclusions concerning bird impact appear to be incorrect.”

Dyer Road resident Alan Paige said that he has seen no information about setbacks and shadow flicker (blades on sunny says casting intermittent shadows on residences). He suggested at the meeting that a spread sheet showing all of the aspects would be good.

Dyer Road resident Darryl Mueller noted that a report about the application was finished Nov. 4, not leaving enough time for people to read “an overwhelming 379 pages.”

Mueller said that there is a much bigger visual impact with the new turbines, as seen from another repowering installation in the Altamont. The new ones are huge, at about 450 feet tall, with a blade in the 12 o’clock position. The old turbines are about 100 feet tall.

Alameda County Assistant Planning Director Sandra Rivera told The Independent that although the application allows up to 32 turbines at 2.1 MW, the applicant could place all 32 turbines in the area without any setback violations, if the firm downsized to 1.7MW turbines.

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