As the global concern to act against climate change increases, Humboldt County is in a position to capitalize on an opportunity to establish a significant renewable resource.
On Thursday, the Humboldt County Planning Commission votes on the wind energy farm developed by Terra-Gen. Terra-Gen, a Manhattan-based energy company, has proposed a wind farm to be built near Bear River, on Monument Ridge, above the city of Scotia.
The Terra-Gen wind farm carries controversy for numerous reasons. The project will help achieve carbon emission-reduction goals and provide two million dollars in annual tax revenue for the county, but will impact wildlife, forest ecosystems and the Wiyot prayer site Tsakiyuwit.
Arne Jacobson, director for Shatz Energy Research Center, said the proposed turbines will produce about 100 times less CO2 than burning fossil fuels.
“From a climate change perspective, wind looks pretty good,” Jacobson said. “Whatever perspective we have on this particular project, I think one question we should be asking ourselves is what we want to do with that opportunity, because I think it’s there and I think we have the local ethic and the local talent to make that happen.”
Lori Biondini, director of Redwood Coast Energy Authority, said the Terra-Gen wind project could be part of a solution to address RCEA’s goal of 100% renewable electricity in Humboldt County by 2025.
“The Terra-Gen project is part of one scenario to reach our goals,” Biondini. “If it doesn’t get built, then we will come up with another scenario.”
RCEA administers the community choice energy program, a program which allows communities to decide where their electricity comes from. It prioritizes local energy generation and generally more clean energy.
“I think that one of the promises of community choice energy is that we get to make choices that are good to our entire community.” Biondini said. “Not further marginalize those that might not otherwise have had a seat at the table.”
Adam Canter, a botanist and representative of the Wiyot tribal council, defended the preservation of the land and disapproved of the Terra-Gen project. Canter cites ethnobotanical resources and culturally significant sites as reasons not to move forward with this project.
“When we first heard about this project, there was this big pit that just kind of fell into our stomachs,” Canter said. “We thought when Shell came 10 years ago that no other company would come back and try to build a project here. But we were wrong.”
Canter pointed out the cultural resource report for the site bound in a green, four-inch binder.
“The representation of cultural diversity on this ridge is pretty magnificent,” Canter said. “We’re seeing evidence of Athabaskan peoples and the Wiyot-Algonquin peoples and really it should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
According to Canter, the area is also a high prayer site; a place where a large expanse of Wiyot ancestral territory is visible. Like the turbines obscuring the view, the Wiyot cultural heritage could be obscured too.
Tom Wheeler, director for the Environmental Protection Information Center, said the proposed site is a questionable area to build a wind farm.
According to guidelines set by the California Energy Commission and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the proposed site is “pristine.” Wheeler said the site has several rare and endangered species, including the rare Horay bat.
Wheeler is still hopeful to keep the project, and said there is technology that can reduce some of the wildlife impacts. This, however, is only one mitigation measure to the several unavoidable cultural, environmental and wildlife impacts of the project.
“I want this to be a better project and it’s not there,” Wheeler said. “At least not yet.”
On Thursday, the final vote by Humboldt County’s Planning Commission will weigh impacts to Native American culture and environmental quality to the people’s interest in local, reliable energy.
Aside from the benefit of reducing carbon emissions, allowing Terra-Gen to build the wind farm also comes with an economic and infrastructure benefit.
Senior Director in Wind Development for Terra-Gen Nathan Vajdos said the company would be the second-largest taxpayer in the county, and could fund $14 million to Humboldt’s reliability network upgrades, with $1.3 million to the Humboldt substation.
“As we charge our iPhones, we fill up our cars with gas, we’re having impacts.” Vajdos said. “Whether this project is built or not, we are having an impact in this room.”