By the end of next year, an energy developer is slated to build 29 wind turbines in a largely undeveloped area about 5 miles south of Lompoc.
During a meeting on Nov. 20, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit that allows Strauss Wind LLC—which international company BayWa owns—to move forward with this project. At about 500 feet tall, these wind turbines have the potential to generate enough electricity to power about 43,000 homes, the company’s vice president of development, Daniel Duke, said during the meeting.
Local groups that advocate for the county to move toward renewable energy—and away from oil and gas—applauded the decision. Michael Chiacos, director of energy and climate programs for the Community Environmental Council, said this project helps the county play its part in the state’s goal to transition to relying solely on renewable energy by 2045.
“In Santa Barbara [County], we find it really easy to say not in my backyard. … We need to approve the Strauss project and shoulder our part of renewable energy production to combat the climate crisis,” Chiacos said.
But not all environmental groups are on board with this project. Several representatives of the Santa Barbara Audubon Society voiced opposition to the proposal, citing the potential for birds to strike the spinning blades of the turbines and be killed.
County staff looked at this concern and other issues in a supplemental environmental impact review completed for the project. The document offers mitigation measures that must be followed to try to limit the number of birds killed. But the review states that the death of birds and bats is considered a significant and unavoidable impact.
During the meeting’s public comment period, Audubon Society member Mark Holmgren asked the Planning Commission to deny the project based on the potential deaths of an unknown number of birds.
“I urge you to stand strong and call this project what it is: a huge and monstrous impact to the ecology of the area,” Holmgren said.
To try to ease some of the concerns around bird mortalities, the Planning Commission asked staff to add a condition to the project that requires the county planning director to give a report to the commission at a public hearing if a certain number of birds are killed. Planning Commission Chair John Parke said this measure adds transparency to the process and allowed the project to move forward with the support of every commissioner.
Commissioners were looking for a way to move the project forward without further delay because the county had a similar wind energy project planned for the same location fall a part after an intensive review process 10 years ago.
“We had a project approved in 2009 and ran it through the ringer, and it disappeared,” Parke said. “Santa Barbara [County] could keep looking at these projects very carefully and keep having no projects. We run that risk here.”
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the project, but the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will likely have the final say. Commissioner Dan Blough said he has no doubt the commission’s approval of the project will get appealed.
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