Lompoc considering pact with wind farm developers; city could receive payment for not opposing project
Although Lompoc is not slated to benefit from the power generated by a wind energy project being planned just south of the city, the venture could provide a boost to the city’s general fund.
The Lompoc City Council this month directed staff to prepare a Community Benefits Agreement that the city will look to enter into with Strauss Wind, LLC, the developer behind the 100-megawatt Strauss Wind Energy project that is planned for the ridgetops near the end of San Miguelito Road.
The pact is likely to include a substantial payment to the city, if certain conditions are met.
The move by the City Council was in response to a Community Benefits Agreement that was proposed to the city by Strauss on May 21. At its June 3 meeting, the council reviewed that proposal, which stipulated that Strauss would pay $150,000 to the city at the project’s completion if, among other things, the city agrees to not “directly or indirectly oppose, protest, challenge, or seek mitigation measures from the approvals Strauss needs from other government agencies” for the project.
Community Benefits Agreements are fairly common between community groups and real estate developers. They typically require the developer to provide specific amenities and/or mitigations to the local community. In exchange, the community groups agree to publicly support the project, or at least not oppose it.
Some council members took issue with particular aspects of the proposed agreement before offering suggestions they’d like to see in a counter offer.
Among the concerns raised were the fact that the proposal from Strauss called for the $150,000 to be paid at the end of the project rather than up-front, and that the payment could be negated altogether if certain deadlines, which are beyond the control of the city, are not met. Those deadlines include a project start date by June 15, which city officials suggested was unlikely, and a completion date by Dec. 31, 2021.
“It makes it very difficult to accept something that’s really not achievable,” Councilman Jim Mosby said of the stipulations.
Michael McCormick, a representative of Strauss Wind, attended the June 3 City Council meeting and suggested that his organization was willing to negotiate those dates, as well as other aspects of the proposed agreement, which would be separate from other reimbursements for staff time and road repairs for which Strauss would be liable after the project’s completion.
He said that Strauss already had its permits from Santa Barbara County, which is the lead agency overseeing the project, and that it was anticipating receiving permits in the near future from the city of Lompoc and Caltrans, which must approve certain aspects related to the transport of materials on city streets and state highways.
McCormick noted that Strauss intends to have the project completed by this December, and suggested the Dec. 31, 2021, date in the proposed agreement was to allay any concerns from the city that Strauss would purposefully delay the project just to avoid the payment after the city met its conditions.
City Manager Jim Throop noted that Strauss had initially proposed a Community Benefits Agreement that called for a $1 million payment to the city, but he said he turned down that proposal, which was not reviewed by the City Council, due to factors that he felt weren’t in the city’s best interests.
After that revelation, it was suggested that the city should ask for a higher payment from Strauss. McCormick, however, said that was unlikely since Strauss had already spent more than $2.5 million to get the project to this point.
“Would I like to come up with a higher number? Absolutely,” he said. “The problem is the project doesn’t have it anymore.”
The wind energy project, which was approved by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in January, calls for erecting 29 wind turbine generators up to 492 feet tall, constructing an operation and maintenance building and an electrical substation at the site, a switch yard near Highway 1, and transmission lines from the substation to the switch yard.
Lompoc, which provides electricity to residents through its own power plant, is not expected to receive any of the energy from the proposed wind farm, but the city will almost assuredly be impacted by its construction.
Strauss plans to transport its large wind turbines to the site via oversized trucks that will travel through Lompoc from the northern border at Santa Lucia Canyon Road, south onto Floradale Avenue, east onto Ocean Avenue, and then south onto I Street before departing the city at Willow Avenue.
Those transports, scheduled for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on work days, are expected to cause traffic delays and may lead to temporary closures of some streets for unknown periods over the course of eight to 15 weeks.
It is estimated that the project will involve 161 to 203 “extremely oversized truck trips, and will require removal of traffic signal poles, trees, street lights, signs, and other items from the city right-of-way, Caltrans right-of-way, and the city-owned property located southwest of the intersection of Ocean Avenue and I Street,” according to a city staff report.
According to Strauss, the trucks carrying materials could be as long as 256 feet and as heavy as 250,000 pounds. Streets – those not built for heavy trucks – typically require a special permit for loads of more than 80,000 pounds.
Strauss is responsible for paying for any wear and tear damage to the roads, according to the project’s approved Environmental Impact Report.
Throop said that he and City Attorney Jeff Malawy would review the suggestions from the council and return with a revised draft of an agreement for council consideration before taking it back to Strauss.
Malawy, while discussing Strauss’s proposal, said he wasn’t overly concerned about Strauss asking the city to waive its rights to protest or oppose any applications that Strauss seeks. Malawy said it was unlikely the city would need to do so, at least at the start of the project.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of risk from giving up our right to challenge the approvals from other government agencies to get the project started, but I’m worried about modifications,” he said.
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