The developer of a proposed wind farm on Monument and Bear River ridges says the project will have impacts, but the consequences of not approving the project are more dire.
Almost 50% of the county’s current power source generates electricity from fossil fuels, said Nathan Vajdos, senior director of wind development at Terra-Gen, at a Thursday night Humboldt County Planning Commission meeting. The meeting was continued to 4 p.m. Nov. 21 because there wasn’t enough time to get through all of the speakers who showed up.
“You are having impacts, we are having impacts, today,” Vajdos said. “Do we want to do something about it?”
Ultimately the commission will have to decide whether to allow the project to move forward despite concerns about the impacts to birds, bats and the Wiyot Tribe’s culture. Bear River Ridge is a place of prayer for the Wiyot Tribe, several speakers said at the meeting.
The wind project had flaws as initially presented, but Vajdos said the company had over 150 meetings with stakeholders and believes their input has helped the project achieve balance.
Starting in 2016, Vajdos said the company began looking at various options, including nine different ridges with 73 different layouts. That was pared down to using 7.4 miles of the 9-mile Monument Ridge and 3.5 miles of the 9.4-mile eastern section of Bear River Ridge.
“Are we using the entire road? No,” Vajdos said. “Does it discount anything you’ve heard tonight from the people who were here long before me? No.”
The number of turbines was also reduced from 60 to 47 to mitigate for the impact to birds, particularly the marbled murrelet, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and the hoary bat, which speakers said exist in large numbers near the project site.
Reducing the size of the project further or adding more costly mitigation measures would make the project financially infeasible, Vajdos said.
“We do believe this project is on the edge and there are real economic feasibility issues,” said Teifion Rice-Evans, an economist with consulting firm Economic & Planning Systems, which helps public and private sector clients determine how much value will be created by a particular project.
Even 47 turbines may not be economically feasible, Rice-Evans said, with fewer turbines than that yielding rates of return between 2.75% and 6%. He said 47 turbines will yield between 5.33% and 7.55% depending on the cost of electricity being around $50 per megawatt hour.
Curtailing operation of the turbines during nesting season is also infeasible, he said.
“That flows into the bottom line,” Rice-Evans said. “So you lose a couple of hours a day of productive energy production over the course of a few months, we ran a couple of scenarios and … over 25 years you lose about $50 million in revenue.”
But Vajdos said $50 is not the market price for electricity. The market rate price for electricity on Friday in Northern California was $40.66, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“It doesn’t work,” Vajdos said. “So I don’t know if this works for Humboldt.”
Rick Golightly, a local marbled murrelet expert, said the wind project was going to be more of a benefit to marbled murrelets than a detriment because the biggest threat to the bird is climate change. Golightly also said, at his team’s urging, Terra-Gen removed five turbines from the project, so it’s as if those are permanently curtailed.
In addition to minimizing the impacts, Vajdos said the project would result in $13.9 million in improvements for the local grid.
No project will ever fully mitigate its impacts, Vajdos said, but “I think the real question is whether we’ve avoided, minimized and mitigated appropriately.”
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