PLEASANTON – A giant thunderbolt exploded, and rain pelted the streets, causing those in the meeting hall to shudder.
“It must be the windmill gods,” a back-row observer quipped.
Whether by divine intervention or sheer force of will, the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments waded through hours of science and combating viewpoints on Thursday before unanimously approving an often criticized company’s plan to install 27 wind turbines in the Altamont Pass.
The company, Altamont Winds, ceased operating about 570 turbines late last year.
The new turbines, far more robust than their predecessors, are supposed to create an equivalent amount of power and kill fewer birds.
The windmills will be installed near the Contra Costa County line and Interstate 580.
The project was opposed by a smattering of groups, including bird conservationists, nearby Native American groups and residents living adjacent to the proposed sites.
It was the residents who appeared to most influence the board.
They describe the wind turbines – about 500 feet in height – as eyesores and health hazards.
“It looks like I moved into the middle of the airport,” said Karin Labat.
Residents also complained about the flicker from lights affixed to the structures and the barrage of sound.
Altamont Winds had asked for approval for 31 wind turbines, but the board tossed four out, which they felt were too close to homes.
“The pre-existence of more small wind turbines doesn’t negate the presence of less large turbines,” board member Jon Harvey said.
Also on the board were Larry Gosselin and Jim Goff.
Both Audubon California and the Attorney General’s Office wrote letters to the board expressing concerns that the project didn’t include a plan to site the turbines in a way that would most significantly reduce bird deaths.
The board included in its decision a directive for the planning director to consider those factors when signing off on the final sites.
Altamont Winds 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.