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Clock ticking on wind energy project

HUMBOLDT – A major wind power project will produce enough energy for almost 40,000 Humboldt County homes and is on what its proponents describe as “a very intentional schedule” for operation in 2020.

Proposed by the San Diego-based Terra-Gen LLC company, the project was described to the Board of Supervisors at its Oct. 16 meeting, one of several public meetings that have featured presentations from the company.

The project’s benefits are measured in megawatts and dollars. Nathan Vajdos, Terra-Gen’s director of wind development, said the plan is to install up to 60 wind turbines on Monument Ridge in the Scotia/Rio Dell area and generate up to 155 megawatts of renewable power.

Terra-Gen estimates that in its first 10 years, the project will pay out $25 million in property taxes and $5.3 million in sales taxes during its construction phase.

Vajdos told supervisors that the build-out will create as many as 300 jobs.

The project is now in an environmental review phase and Vajdos said it needs timely progress to deliver return on a range of investments.

“We are on a very intentional schedule – this is a business,” Vajdos said, adding that a completed project will make Terra-Gen the county’s second-largest taxpayer and “with the county’s assistance, going at an intentional pace, we can achieve this.”

He said the project will “become very financially difficult if we’re not online by the end of 2020.”

Later in the presentation, he said that “this is not a project we can afford to wait to happen.”

But the environmental review phase is complex and includes analysis of potential biological, visual and transportation-related impacts.

The large wind turbine equipment would be barged into Fields Landing and trucked south on U.S. Highway 101 to the Jordan Creek area just south of the entrance to the Avenue of the Giants. It’s a four-mile stretch to the top of Monument Ridge and Vadjos said new roads will have to be built to accommodate the transport.

Over the last year, Terra-Gen has used eight radar stations to track bird flights and Vajdos said his company has extensively studied the project area’s conditions, particularly for Marbled Murrelets.

A wind power subsidiary of the Shell Oil Company unsuccessfully proposed a similar project for the Bear River Ridge area and Vajdos said that the “quality and quantity” of the bird data Terra-Gen has collected is almost four times more than what Shell took several years to collect.

Shell had proposed a 50-megawatt project which was dropped in 2012 after being in planning stages for several years. The company spent millions of dollars to advance the project but it ran into opposition due to its visual and traffic impacts.

The company ultimately concluded that the wind project wasn’t financially doable.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell, the county’s representative on the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, said the Terra-Gen project’s emergence is “very exciting” and “it’s going in the right direction.”

Supervisor Mike Wilson acknowledged the potential for biological and visual impacts but he said a collective switch to renewable energy will reduce the severe impacts related to carbon emissions and global warming.

Vajdos downplayed impacts on birds particularly. “There’s this predisposition that we’re going to kill birds – I challenge that,” he said.

When Wilson indicated he didn’t say the project will necessarily be a bird-killer, Vajdos added, “You didn’t say that, but residents of the county have said that, they’re presuming that we’re going to kill birds.”

“And I’m going to start with that presumption, always, in the way that we do things – but a two degrees (Celsius) rise in the temperature of the planet will kill birds,” Wilson said. He added that many other impacts will result from climate change and “this is a really serious thing that we’re trying to address and (the project) is only one small piece of that.”

During the presentation, Vajdos said that “if citizens of this county believe in global warming and want to materially have a role in affecting global warming and climate change, you can do that by supporting this project.”

He also said that there’s potential for reducing residents’ energy bills and after describing the project’s tax revenue benefits, Vajdos highlighted the importance of meeting the 2020 operation target.

He told supervisors, “It’s not every day that one of these types of businesses shows up at your door, saying ‘I’d like to do business in your county.’”