By the end of this year, an energy developer plans to build 29 wind turbines up to roughly 500 feet tall in a largely undeveloped area about 5 miles south of Lompoc.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to move the Strauss Wind Energy Project forward at its Jan. 28 meeting after denying three appeals opponents filed over the county Planning Commission’s decision to approve the project in November.
Among their numerous concerns, the appellants argued that the project would be detrimental to federally protected birds and plants within the project site in San Miguelito Canyon. Nick Jensen, a conservation scientist with the California Native Plant Society—one of the groups that appealed the project—argued that the development of these turbines could wipe out a significant population of the Gaviota tarplant, which is a federally endangered flower that’s only found in the county.
Jensen said his organization doesn’t outright oppose the development of wind energy on the project site, but that modifications must be made to the location of the turbines.
George and Cheryl Bedford, who live on a ridge in San Miguelito Canyon—about 2,000 feet from the nearest proposed turbine—also appealed the project. At the Board of Supervisors meeting, George argued that such a large project shouldn’t take place in a rural area.
“It’s just frustrating when my wife and I bought that ranch in 1994 and we decided we’d like to live up there. … I didn’t know if I built my house, I’d have to listen to 29 wind turbines circling around,” Bedford said.
Although the group didn’t appeal the project, the Santa Barbara Audubon Society also raised objections over the number of birds, including golden eagles, that could die as a result of this project. In a previous interview with the Sun, Audubon Society member Steve Ferry said the canyon has one of the highest concentrations of raptors, such as hawks and eagles, in the county.
The county supervisors acknowledged these complaints and admitted that while it’s not a perfect project, it’s good enough to move forward. First District Supervisor Das Williams said approving the project is a significant step forward for the county, which has preached about the importance of renewable energy, while only making minimal progress.
The development of these 29 wind turbines would be the county’s second utility-scale renewable energy project along with a 40-megawatt solar panel project in the Cuyama Valley. The wind project will generate more than double that amount by producing 98 megawatts of electricity annually, which is enough to power roughly 43,000 homes, according to project planning documents.
“Most people in the county agree about the values of local generation, agree about renewable energy, and it’s all sort of in theoretical concept, but then they force people in inland counties to actually do something about it, and that’s environmental hypocrisy,” Supervisor Williams said. “From a larger level, I think approving renewable energy is important for us to get over that environmental hypocrisy.”
About 10 years ago, the county approved the Lompoc Wind Energy Project, which proposed a similar project with 65 turbines. The company behind that project bailed on its plans in 2013, and BayWa—a German company involved in different business sectors, including energy—picked up where that company left off.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting, BayWa Vice President of Development Daniel Duke said the county’s approval doesn’t give the company the green light to begin construction. It’s still waiting on a few federal and state permits, and he said he’s confident the company will receive the approvals it needs soon.
Duke previously told the Sun that construction—including removing oak trees to widen roadways—should begin in February and is expected to take 10 months. He said it’s critical that BayWa maintains this schedule because the project has to be operational by the end of the year or else the company loses a federal tax credit that’s making the project financially viable.
“We can’t wait six months, we can’t wait three months, we have to get this thing done,” Duke told the Sun. “Otherwise there won’t be a project.”
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