A wind generation project in the hills southwest of Lompoc won unanimous approval Wednesday from the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, despite a number of public comments opposing the development.
Commissioners approved the Strauss Wind Energy Project that will bring 29 wind turbines mounted to towers more than 260 feet tall and capable of generating 98 megawatts of electricity per year to the hilltops about 5 miles from the city.
The project, owned by BayWa, is located on the site of the Lompoc Wind Energy Project that was approved in 2009 but never built.
However, the Strauss project is much smaller than the Lompoc project, which would have consisted of 65 turbines mounted on 400-foot towers.
As approved, the Strauss project is a modified version of the original proposal that would have resulted in the loss of 1,700 live and tan oak trees. A subsequent proposal would have removed 607 oaks, but by eliminating two turbines and making some other changes, the loss of oaks was cut to 225, leaving 98% of the oaks intact.
The 98 megawatts the wind turbines will produce is enough to power 43,000 homes, remove the equivalent of up to 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and generate about $40 million in tax revenues.
The project was opposed by the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Audubon Society, Food and Water Watch Santa Barbara, Sunrise Movement Central Coast and the Channel Islands Chapter of the California Native Plant Society as well as a number of Lompoc area residents.
Opponents took aim at what they said was an inadequate supplemental environmental impact report, the project’s potential to kill golden eagles, hawks, falcons and bats, its destruction of the endangered Gaviota tar plant and damage to scenic vistas.
“I support sustainable everything, but I’m living in Lompoc because it’s so beautiful,” said Kate Griffith, a 12-year resident of the Lompoc Valley who also brought up the effect electromagnetism from the turbines would have on honey bees.
Mark Holmgren, of the Audubon Society’s Conservation and Science Committee, said the area was home to four pairs of breeding golden eagles, including one pair within 200 feet of the project boundary, and predicted all four would be killed by the turbine blades that are as much as 225 feet long.
But the project won the support of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, Santa Barbara County Action Network and the Clean Coalition.
Proponents focused on the project’s contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, generation of renewable energy, contribution to the area’s energy resiliency and the provision of jobs and tax revenues.
“It breaks my heart to think of golden eagles dying on the blades,” said Janet Blevins of Lompoc, and an SBCAN member. “But I have grandchildren I want to live a full and enjoyable life, and they can’t do that [with climate change]”
To address the potential for the blades to kill special status birds and address concerns about transparency and public involvement in BayWa’s response to bird deaths, commissioners added a condition to the required monitoring and adaptive management plan.
In the event that a bird kill triggers a “Level 2” response, the county planning director will have to provide a report to the Planning Commission at a public hearing within three months, or as soon as possible on the nature of the fatality, the status of the adaptive management plan and measures taken to address the impact.
The project must still win final approval from the Central Board of Architectural Review before the conditional use permit is issued.
BayWa Vice President Daniel Duke said the company expects to start construction in January.
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