Humboldt County may see a significant boost in its renewable energy portfolio should a proposed onshore wind energy farm be built near Scotia, according to local officials.
The San Diego-based company Humboldt Wind LLC that is leading the project is set to host two public meetings in Fortuna and Eureka next week to discuss details of the project and answer questions.
Local officials such as Humboldt State University Schatz Energy Research Center founding director Peter Lehman said while the company and county still has to conduct studies on potential environmental impacts, especially potential impacts to birds like eagles and marbled murrelets, the project would be tens of times larger in terms of energy output than any other renewable energy project in the county.
The project is estimated to be able to produce enough energy to power about 33,000 homes.
“I mean, all in all, is this a good idea? It’s a great idea,” Lehman said. “It will significantly green up our electricity grid here in Humboldt with local renewable energy. That’s wonderful.”
Humboldt Wind’s senior director of wind development Nathan Vajdos said their company is looking forward to sharing more details about its project at the upcoming July 25 and 26 meetings.
“We invite the community out to participate and look forward to the conversation,” Vajdos said.
Humboldt Wind LLC is a subsidiary of Terra-Gen LLC, which is owned by the private equity firm Energy Capital Partners. Terra-Gen has renewable energy projects throughout the western U.S.
The company’s project application shows it is proposing to build up to sixty 590-foot-tall wind turbines near Monument Ridge on about 124 parcels southwest of Scotia that would generate 135 megawatts of power. Along with the turbines, the company proposes to build access roads, collection lines, meteorological towers, an operation building and lines that would eventually connect to a PG&E substation in Bridgeville, according to the project application submitted to the county in May.
Construction is estimated to last 16 to 18 months with about 300 workers being employed. About 15 operations and maintenance staff would be employed to operate the project after it is completed, according to the project application.
Once completed, the project would have a lifespan of at least 30 years, according to the application.
Two alternative sites at Shively Ridge several miles to the northeast and Rainbow Ridge to the southwest of the current proposed site were also looked at as alternatives. However, the topography of these sites would decrease the number of turbines available and would make construction difficult due to steep terrains, according to the application.
Planning and Building Director John Ford said the property where the construction is set to take place is primarily owned by Humboldt Redwood Company.
Ford said the next steps in the project will be for the county to assess any potential impacts caused by the project and to generate an environmental impact report, which could be completed next year. In addition to the open houses the company is holding next week, the county is set to hold several scoping meetings in early August to allow the public as well as state and federal agencies to provide comments or voice concerns.
“At this point, it’s still early in the process,” Ford said. “We’re still really focused on collecting information.”
In general, Ford said alternative energy projects such as this are a “high priority” for the county, though he said that has to be balanced with looking into what environmental impacts the project might cause.
Environmental Protection Information Center Executive Director Tom Wheeler said one of the main impacts that can be caused by wind energy turbines is injuring or killing bats and birds such as golden eagles, bald eagles, hawks and potentially endangered species like the marbled murrelet.
Wheeler said their environmental nonprofit organization has not taken a stance on the project, but he expressed appreciation that the company is holding the open house meetings so early in the process, which he said is not a requirement.
“We don’t want to prejudge this project, but we’re not going to give them a free pass because it’s a wind farm and not a timber sale,” Wheeler said. “Impacts to wildlife are impacts to wildlife.”
This is not the first onshore wind energy farm proposal for the region. Before pulling the project in 2012 after community backlash, Shell Wind proposed to build 25 wind turbines on Bear River Ridge near Ferndale. The wind farm would have produced enough renewable electricity to power about 22,000 Humboldt County homes.
Lehman, who wrote editorials for the Times-Standard in support of the Shell Wind project in the past, said the Shell project is different from Humboldt Wind’s proposal in that several landowners were involved which Shell had to acquire leases and support from.
How the new Humboldt Wind LLC project differs from that is that most of land where the project is set to be built is owned by a single entity, Lehman said. Lehman said Shell also fell short in receiving public backing.
“I think [Humboldt Wind LLC] is doing a more careful job of connecting with the community,” Lehman said.
The Humboldt Wind project would ultimately need to get the approval of the county board of supervisors before it can begin.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said the company has been in contact with the county for several months. Bohn said he was only a candidate when the Shell project was ongoing, but said he would not support the project because of its impact to the Ferndale community. Like Lehman, Bohn said the Humboldt Wind LLC is different because they are doing much more early outreach. He said that most of the project’s staging sites and road impacts will be on private property, with only some traffic being affected on U.S. Highway 101 during construction.
Bohn said he is hoping he can support this project because of its job creation, the property tax revenue it will generate for the county and because it is generating a substantial amount of renewable energy.
“We just have to look at all the other aspects that his project brings with it,” Bohn said. “That’s why these public meetings, the scoping sessions and the [environmental impact report] will answer all those questions. Hopefully.”
Redwood Coast Energy Authority Director of Business Development and Planning Lori Biondini said that while they are hoping to hearing more about the project’s specifics at upcoming meetings, the project fits with the authority’s goal of developing more renewable energy sources in the county. The authority runs the county’s community choice energy program, which seeks to provide more local renewable energy sources to customers at a lower price.
“We look forward to learning more,” she said.
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