A couple of weeks ago I suggested that a proposed wind energy project was meeting stiff headwinds. In a Lompoc City Council hearing on June 3, one aspect of the proposed Strauss Wind was they were offering a Community Benefit Agreement that could provide $150,000 to the city’s general fund at the completion of the project if the city approved an oversized load permit.
Considering the council had several open questions concerning the agreement, they provide direction to staff regarding amendments to the agreement terms for further negotiation with Strauss Wind. They then continued the item until June 16, which was last Tuesday.
The city attorney considered council direction and was now proposing those changes. Strauss wanted to make a payment when he project was complete; staff wanted this condition amended to read “payment will be made when any work begins in the City public right-of-way or any transportation begins on city streets along the Ocean Avenue/I Street route, whichever is earlier.”
Strauss wanted the city to forfeit its right to oppose or file a lawsuit to challenge any future modifications to the project’s permits from other government agencies; this was a non-starter and the staff was proposing the city reserve its right to join others should litigation occur.
Somewhere along the way, Strauss had reduced the amount they were offering from $1 million to $150,000. The city manager wasn’t aware when or how this occurred, so one of the big changes was that “the amount of the community benefit payment is increased to $1,000,000.”
The applicant spoke after the staff completed their presentation; he agreed they would “prepay some of this” at the start. He then said he “wasn’t trying to buy anything” and that Strauss was only trying to provide a “gift” to the city. He also said the $1 million community benefit “wasn’t going to happen,” even though it was Strauss that originally proposed that amount.
Councilman Jim Mosby then correctly pointed out that Lompoc Police and Fire departments, through mutual aid agreements, “are the first responders in the project area;” therefore, the public benefit isn’t a gift, it’s payment in lieu of taxes for future services.
Mosby also pointed out that this project will have a huge benefit to the county in the form of property taxes, which are used for police and fire protection during the 30-year life of the project, and Lompoc would receive none.
The proponent then addressed the idea that the project was “of no benefit to the city” by saying various consultants have stayed in local hotels, rented equipment from local vendors, and eaten in local restaurants over the course of the last 20 years. This is a common argument every developer makes.
Councilwoman Gilda Cordova asked if a completed route application had been received by the city. The city engineer replied that they had been working with the applicant, but still have not received all the needed changes that would allow issuance of a permit. The applicant stated that Caltrans was still in the review/approval process, so they still can’t start moving large loads.
He then said that “route preparations had already begun and that to receive the tax credits they must complete construction and deliver electricity by December 2020.”
Strauss plans to use buried concrete column-type supports for the towers. There will be 29 wind towers needing several thousand truckloads of concrete; those loads will probably destroy Miguelito Canyon Road and greatly impede traffic flow for canyon residents.
There are only two concrete batch plants in Lompoc, and there has been no mention of this impact or that of other construction material deliveries.
Work is also evident on transmission tower pads south of Lompoc and route preparations in Miguelito Canyon and neighbors say some grading has begun on the wind tower site. When you travel up the route, you’ll see numerous oak trees have been cut down and debris is clearly visible in the creek below the road.
At this point, the completion date seems overly optimistic. Considering it is nearly the end of June, construction materials haven’t begun to arrive yet, and each tower requires a substantial foundation to support the 50-story wind generators, it is improbable this schedule can be met.
One rancher told me there was no registered survey for the land Strauss leased for the project and the clearance needed for their travel route overlapped his property; they are taking legal action to preclude infringement on their property.
A business owner on South I Street had been talking with workers who were surveying the route, and they told him it would take at least an hour for each transporter to make the turn at Ocean Avenue and I Street. This could cause his business to close during the lunch hour adding to his COVID-19 losses.
Considering none of the councils’ concerns have been resolved, a motion to continue the discussion until the next council meeting was approved by a unanimous vote.
Once again, we must wait and see if Strauss can respond to the concerns of the Lompoc City Council.