When it comes to the proposed massive Fountain Wind project in eastern Shasta County, Kelly Tanner knows how to get the attention of key players shepherding the project through the planning process.
Tanner, who lives in Round Mountain, sent the county a 135-page letter commenting on the wind energy project’s environmental impact report.
That got her a meeting on May 17 with two lawyers representing the county, two more consultants hired to work on the report and the county’s Department of Resources Management director, Paul Hellman.
“So yeah, (135 pages) is very, very unusual in my experience. You do pay attention when you get someone writing a comment letter like that. It’s just not the typical three- or four- or five-page comment letter from an opponent. It is someone who has very strong opinions. And again, in her case she has certain expertise that she feels is related to the analysis of the project,” Hellman said.
Tanner has a master’s degree in disaster and emergency management. And the letter she wrote about the report is timely.
Fountain Wind public hearing is on Tuesday
Her comments on the project and the environmental impact report analyzing it are expected to be considered Tuesday, along with dozens of other comments, when the county planning commission holds a hearing on whether to approve the 29,500-acre project.
The commission is set to vote on whether to approve a use permit for the project and to consider the environmental impact report.
ConnectGen LLC plans to lease property to construct up to 72 wind turbines with a capacity to generate up to 216 megawatts of electricity, according to the county planning department.
The turbines could be up to 679 feet tall, from base to blade tip. By comparison, Shasta Dam is 602 feet tall, and the turbines on Hatchet Ridge near Burney are 418 feet tall.
Tanner said she thinks the turbines in the intermountain region between Montgomery Creek and Burney will increase the fire danger in the area and make it more difficult to fight fires when they happen.
The 1992 Fountain Fire exposed the fire danger in the area, she said. Having the wind turbines could make fires worse, she said. Tanner said she wrote her master’s thesis on the Fountain Fire, which in the summer of 1992 burned 64,000 acres and destroyed 330 homes.
Could wind turbines make fires worse?
She said fires and other disasters repeat themselves, and another fire could happen in the same area as the Fountain Fire.
“What drove that fire the way it did – the way the Carr Fire moved, the way the Camp Fire moved – all is based on the wind and the topography and the climate that already exists here,” Tanner said.
“The turbines themselves will add a new hazard that can’t be mitigated, and from my understanding would probably require 2 to 3 miles of clearance of vegetation, or anything else, from the turbines,” she said.
The turbines could attract lightning or there could be a mechanical malfunction that starts a fire on the machines, she said. The presence of the blades, turning or not, will also make it difficult for aerial firefighting, she said.
Henry Woltag, the Fountain Wind project manager, said his company has consulted with former firefighters, timber managers and others in the community. He said they have a different point of view than Tanner.
“And what we’ve heard from all of them is that they believe that this project would be a tremendous improvement to fire prevention in the area. Bottom line is this project will serve as a large scale fuel reduction project and a fire break between the communities of Round Mountain, Montgomery Creek and Burney,” Woltag said.
In addition to clearing vegetation around each of the wind turbines, the company will improve access and fire clearance on 30 to 50 miles of roads in the area, he said. The company also is working on plans for a fuel reduction project in the area of Big Bend Road and Highway 299, he said.
“So we’re going to enhance access. In this remote part of the county, we’re going to provide these fuel breaks, set up that line of defense. And that is one of the primary benefits with the project itself,” Woltag said.
‘This is a very important project’
Hellman said he didn’t necessarily agree with Tanner’s conclusions about the fire danger associated with turbines, but he thought it was important to listen to her. He said he also wanted to hear what she had to say about whether the environmental report addressed concerns over fire and other issues.
He also met with Tanner one-on-one prior to their online session with the attorneys and consultants, she said.
When Tanner met with Hellman and the others, she spent about 90 minutes going over a PowerPoint presentation.
She said her audience mostly listened to her and didn’t ask many questions.
“I have a lot of other things to do. But this is a very important project. And if someone is that dedicated to getting information to us, I’m not going to refuse the person the right to share that information with us,” Hellman said.
The public will get another chance to provide an opinion on the project during the planning commission meeting Tuesday. The commission’s hearing on the project starts at 1 p.m. at the Shasta College Theater, 11555 Old Oregon Trail in Redding.
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