Thanks to a unanimous February 10 vote of support from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, a large-scale wind farm will likely be up and running in the foothills southwest of Lompoc sometime next year. The first of its kind to gain approval in the county, Acciona Energy’s 65-turbine project, spread out over nearly 3,000 acres of ag land in and around Miguelito Canyon, is expected to harness enough wind to power 50,000 homes a year.
Less than two weeks after the California State Lands Commission shot down an offshore oil drilling deal slated for the same coastal neighborhood as the Acciona project, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf testified to the wind farm’s ecological upsides. “It is what we need to do, what we have to do, and what we must do,” she said of the project.
The Lompoc Wind Farm was on the supervisors’ plate this Tuesday after neighbors of the project site, George and Cheryl Bedford, and the California Department of Fish and Game filed appeals of its unanimous approval at the County Planning Commission last fall. The latter objected to the undeniable impact that the wind turbines, with their 135-foot blades approaching 200 miles per hour at the tip, would have on bird and bat populations. The former was more concerned about the desecration of viewsheds and noise pollution.
Before this week’s hearing, Fish and Game brokered a deal with Acciona and withdrew its challenge to the Planning Commission’s vote before that portion of the appeal was even heard. All it took was a pledge from Acciona to make either a one-time payment of $450,000 to the California Wildlife Foundation for the specific purpose of helping preserve and protect threatened bird species via a land conservation easement or to donate such an easement with an endowment to keep it staffed. (It should be noted that prior to this deal, as part of the Environmental Impact Report, Acciona is also required to monitor bird and bat deaths throughout the life of the project and move or shut down specific turbines if problems persist.)
The Bedfords, however, were not so easily placated. Their 425-acre parcel being surrounded on three sides by the project, the Bedfords not only took classic “not in my backyard” exception to the prospect of these new neighbors-400 feet tall when measured from base to blade tip-but they also charged that the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) inadequately addressed bird death projections and noise impacts.
Leasing land from seven area property owners, Acciona is also offering them compensation for infrastructure erected on their land. Acciona spokesperson Harley McDonald explained that the project will only use 2 percent of the land they intend to lease, thus allowing the families to remain in the agriculture business with the bonus of a little extra dough to help make ends meet. Furthermore, according to data set forth in the EIR, the noise impact of the turbines on residences is expected to be no more than 50 decibels-roughly the equivalent of a quiet house-despite readings found at the base of the towers nearly three times that amount. Pointing to the fact that the Acciona plan has yet to completely flesh out where specifically the towers will be sited, George Bedford made his case Tuesday that it is impossible to say that residences won’t be adversely affected. “The bottom line is, no one in this room knows where these things are going yet, so how can we know the impacts?” he warned.
While the supes’ denial of the appeal was the last major hurdle for Acciona to clear, the project, as it begins its phased construction, must still endure additional review from the Board of Architectural Review and county staff before it starts harvesting the wind to make sure that the many significant conforming requirements of the project outlined in the EIR, such as post-construction decibel studies and required buffer zones between specific turbine sites and nesting habitat of birds, are met. Acciona expects to start construction by the end of 2009.