It’s been nearly a decade since the Lompoc Wind Energy Project was blown away. It’s back, in a different form.
The new proposal would allow Strauss Wind LLC to place up to 30 wind turbine generators – what we once referred to as windmills – on close to 3,000 acres in the hills a couple of miles southwest of Lompoc, which is roughly the same location as the ill-fated Wind Energy Project that was given the county’s OK in 2009.
At first glance, this latest proposal seems to be about the same as the one that went under in 2009. Strauss essentially bought Wind Energy’s project. However, the wind turbines in the latest proposal would be several generations of design improvements better than the devices that would have been used in 2009.
The deal agreed to by the Board of Supervisors last week was for a supplemental environmental impact report. In other words, an updating from the full EIR that was provided on the 2009 proposal. More than the technology has changed since then, thus the required updating.
A full EIR is important because wind farms pose specific problems, and although they provide a desired sustainable source of electric power, there are costs.
One such cost is that birds and giant wind turbines do not get along. No bird species is a match for the huge, spinning blades, and the supplemental EIR needs to address that problem.
A spokesman for the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB) raised another point at last week’s board meeting: Why do county officials seem to have a different standard for sustainable vs. traditional forms of energy projects? Specifically, the matter of the tiger salamander stopping certain projects dead in their tracks, while the county appears to fast-track other projects with potentially dire impacts on wildlife?
Valid questions, to be sure, and ones that need to be answered by county officials, who appear to be favoring one form of energy generation over another, on an uneven playing field.
This debate arrives amid the federal government’s big changes in energy conservation policies, some of which have been in force for years, with the net effect of opening up domestic oil and gas markets. The Central Coast has significant oil and gas formations, so answering questions about priorities is something county leaders need to do. The point being that sustainable energy proposals need to be held to the same standards as proposals made for oil and gas development, or for that matter, a new winery.
County officials seem to have covered that issue by approving the supplemental EIR for the latest wind farm proposal. There have been changes in the sustainable energy industry since that 2009 project disappeared.
Updating the EIR also gives the Board of Supervisors time to hash out policy priorities, and balance those against policies being promoted by state and federal governments. There have been technological changes in the oil and gas industry as well, especially with regard to taking steps to prevent spills.
Board members seemed genuinely pleased that the staff is covering all the bases when it comes to signing off on new energy projects. The next step is to ensure that all such proposals are dealt with using the same standards.
The safety of local wildlife is certainly a concern, but so is reliable electric power – which we are reminded of when, for whatever reason, the lights go out.
Wind farms may or may not be the optimal choice, and county officials seem to be on a path toward finding answers.
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