The Shasta County Planning Department recommends approval of a controversial wind farm project proposed for 4,464 acres of timberland property just west of Burney.
The massive Fountain Wind project comes before the Shasta County Planning Commission on Tuesday. The public hearing starts at 1 p.m. at the Shasta College theater.
ConnectGen LLC plans to lease property to construct up to 71 wind turbines with a capacity to generate up to 216 megawatts of electricity, according to the county planning department. The electricity generated would be enough to power more than 86,000 California homes, according to the project’s website, fountainwind.com. By comparison, the entire city of Redding has 44,000 homes and businesses powered by Redding Electric Utility.
In a 14-page report to the planning commission, senior planner Lio Salazar states that the issues with the project include whether the benefits outweigh its impact on the “unavoidable adverse environmental effects.” Shasta County Resource Management Director Paul Hellman signed the report.
The report notes that opponents also disagree over the conclusions reached in the final environmental impact report and the document’s sufficiency.
Salazar notes the goal of the county’s general plan is to increase renewable energy resources by encouraging the development of things like solar, biomass, hydroelectric and wind energy.
He states that the wind farm would be consistent with the county’s general plan and zoning requirements for the area.
Moreover, the Fountain Wind project would provide jobs and other economic benefits to residents, he said.
Why Shasta College will be the site of the public hearing
To accommodate what is expected to be a large crowd, Tuesday’s meeting was moved to the 450-seat Shasta College theater – which is nearly three times the capacity of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors Chambers, where planning commission meetings typically take place.
The county did consider holding the meeting in the board chambers with a satellite location in the Montgomery Creek-Round Mountain area. But this option was ruled out over concerns with potential technical issues, Hellman said.
About the proposed wind farm’s size
The Fountain Wind project would dwarf the existing Hatchet Ridge wind farm.
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.
The project would be built on nearly 4,500 acres located six miles west of Burney and one mile west of the existing Hatchet Ridge wind project, which has been in operation since 2010 with 44 wind turbines.
County conditions for approval include:
An emergency response plan
Notification of a tower collapse, or blade throw
A decommissioning plan that includes a financial assurance to cover costs of dismantling and removing equipment and site restoration
Residents voice opinions on safety of project
Neighbors opposing Fountain Wind have for more than two years lobbied Shasta County supervisors to not approve the project during the board’s public comment period. Opponents say the forested area that the turbines would be located within is in a high fire hazard zone and worry the wind farm would exacerbate the threat of fire. They also are concerned about how the project would affect property values, wildlife and tourism in that area.
Henry Woltag, the Fountain Wind project manager, told the Record Searchlight that his company has consulted with former firefighters, timber managers and others in the community.
ConnectGen officials have said they are working with the landowner to minimize wildfire risk through prevention and early detection.
Among the wildfire risks addressed in the EIR is how the wind turbines would affect aerial firefighting.
In the report, Shasta County Fire Chief Bret Gouvea said that in his discussions with aerial firefighters, the wind turbines would present a challenge that would need to be addressed when fire incident managers plan air attacks. But the wind turbines would not create a no-fly zone or prevent aerial attacks from being planned in the case of a wildfire.
Gouvea also noted the maintenance roads of vegetation would help the area because they could provide more reliable access to the wind farm for ground crews to fight a fire.
“However, the turbines do add an additional asset at risk requiring protection from an advancing fire,” the report to the planning commission states.
Concerns of electrical issues that sparked wildfires
Meanwhile, Salazar notes that opponents Maggie and Joseph Osa, Beth Messick-Lattin and Edmond Baier are among those worried about the adequacy and maintenance of existing Pacific Gas & Electric Co. equipment in the area in the wake of the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County and last year’s Zogg Fire in Shasta County. Cal Fire investigators have said both fires were sparked by PG&E’s equipment.
In May, a $12.36 million settlement was reached between PG&E and Shasta and Tehama counties for the extensive damages caused by the 2020 Zogg Fire.
The Camp Fire killed 85 people, destroyed more than 19,000 buildings and burned over 153,000 acres. PG&E went on to plead guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter and one count of illegally starting a fire as part of agreeing to a $4 million fine. Fallout from the Camp Fire lead PG&E to declare bankruptcy.
The concerns about PG&E’s equipment and maintenance are acknowledged, but an analysis of the existing electrical grid is beyond the scope of the EIR, Salazar stated. Also, “decision making with respect to the whether the project can interconnect with the existing electrical grid and the correction and oversight of any performance and maintenance issues with the existing electrical grid is beyond the county’s jurisdiction,” the report goes on to say.
There is a good chance that whatever decision the planning commission makes Tuesday, it will be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.
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