A commercial wind energy project proposed for a ridge southwest of Lompoc can move forward, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday after more than four hours of discussion.
In casting the 4-0 vote, the board approved several aspects and denied an appeal filed by neighbors and other opponents of the Strauss Wind Energy Project, proposed by BayWa r.e. Wind, LLC.
“This is a very significant project…for Santa Barbara County but also setting a tone as we go forward,” Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he believed the benefits brought by the renewable energy project outweigh unavoidable impacts.
“This is, by far, not a perfect project, but I think it is a good project,” Lavagnino said.
First District Supervisor Das Williams added that the county needed to approve renewable energy projects with reasonable and economically feasible mitigation measures.
“A denial (of the appeal) today will for the first time in a long time send that signal to the world that we mean business about renewable energy,” Williams said.
Under the revised project, Strauss plans to install 29 wind turbine generators, up to 492 feet tall, on 3,000 acres near the intersection of San Miguelito and Sudden roads.
The wind farm would produce 98 megawatts, or enough energy to power 43,000 homes, and would generate tax revenue of $40 million for county coffers over 30 years. Some 150 construction jobs will be created and up to seven employees would be needed once it’s operating.
The Strauss project is a revised version of the approved-but-never built Lompoc Wind Energy Project proposal that envisioned building 65 wind turbines a decade ago.
Neighbors George and Cheryl Bedford, along with Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy and the California Native Plant Society, appealed the Planning Commission’s Nov. 20 approval.
Appeals challenged the final supplemental environmental impact report’s adequacy, noise, General Plan consistency and impacts on birds, bats and the Gaviota tarplant, a rare and endangered plant with yellow blooms native to the Gaviota coast.
“The size and scope of this project cannot be overstated,” said Richard Adam, attorney for the Bedfords. “In its history, Santa Barbara County has never approved any structure, let alone 29 of them, remotely as tall as these structures.”
Daniel Duke, vice president of development for BayWa, called the Strauss proposal “a much-improved version” of the project approved in 2009.
“We’ve done I think a very good job of minimizing impacts and balancing the contraints there. We’re ready for construction,” he said.
He rejected calls to relocate wind turbines from hilltops.
“This would be like putting a solar project in the shade,” Duke added.
BayWa officials hope to begin construction in February, after initially intending to start the work in April 2019.
“In essence, we’re ready to go. It is important this project get off the ground as soon as possible,” he said.
The board’s approval included two last-minute conditions added to the project, including one seeking to ensure two wind turbines aren’t placed closer to the Bedfords’ residence if BayWa decided during construction that the location must change.
Another condition crafted Tuesday afternoon called for routine annual reports on the impacts to the Gaviota tarplant over five years. In November, the Planning Commission asked for regular updates on the wind farm’s impacts to bats and birds.
Local employees also were on the minds of board members.
“Just as a comment and a request, I would hope the developer continues to work with union contractors to have more certainty with the additional contracts that have to be let on this project to hire as much local union labor as is possible,” Chairman Gregg Hart added.
At the start of the afternoon meeting, the board rejected a request to delay the Strauss appeal hearing.
Strauss will be the first commercial wind energy project in Santa Barbara County and joins a commercial solar farm in the Cuyama Valley plus a military solar array project powering Vandenberg Air Force Base.
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