Business

Tuesday, Jan 31 2012 08:23 PM

Wind foes blast approval process

BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

More than a year of pent-up frustration hit county supervisors with a roar Tuesday as a small army of wind energy opponents attacked county-drawn maps that would outline where industrial wind energy projects can and cannot be developed.

Supervisors responded by withdrawing the maps for months of more study, community involvement on wind projects and input from property owners who both support and oppose wind energy development.

The board also heard from landowners and wind developers who support the wind projects that have been going forward in the county.

The communities of Tehachapi, Sand Canyon, Kelso Valley and Mojave -- which have fought individual wind projects on their own -- have now united against the proposed maps.

They've been joined by residents and ranchers of the Piute Mountains between Tehachapi and Lake Isabella who don't want to see wind developments move north into their mountains.

Supervisor Zack Scrivner said the proposed maps were developed because residents called for boundaries to protect them from wind developments.

But speakers said, simply, they don't trust the county anymore.

Their trust was destroyed, they told supervisors, as the board approved project after project over the past two years -- nearly 100 square miles of wind energy installations that will raise 500-foot-tall wind turbines across the eastern flank of the Tehachapi Mountains.

Beverly Billingsley of the Friends of Sand Canyon wind opposition group has already seen the project that threatened her community pulled from consideration. It was one of only a few projects that haven't moved forward.

But that isn't stopping her.

She said residents will continue to speak out against wind energy until supervisors either listen, or come up for re-election.

"We've lost respect for you," she said. "We don't feel protected by you in the least."

Mike Fortuna of Friends of Mojave, another wind opposition group, said his community has already lost its battle. He said county supervisors already discounted his concerns and approved projects that will fill the western horizon of the desert community.

But he spoke out against the county's plan to develop wind energy boundaries to protect communities from wind development.

"Why should we need a map to protect ourselves from your activities?" Fortuna said.

Tim Kleier of the Ranchers for Responsible Conservation said the maps aren't attempts to protect residents. Kleier spoke about the impact to the "mountain" area north of Highway 58.

All but one of the maps proposed by county staff would move three sections of property owned by the city of Vernon, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Loop Ranch into areas being considered as wind friendly, he said.

All the county's maps are designed to do, Kleier said, is fast-track wind energy developments on those properties.

In other words, he said, he maps merely ask residents which finger they want to chop off so that wind energy developers can profit.

Supervisors and planners said no project would go forward without an independent, comprehensive environmental review.

Planning official Craig Murphy countered statements that the county lied about a pending project proposed by the city of Vernon in the Piute Mountains.

There is no project, he said.

"We do not have any active projects north of Highway 58," Murphy said.

But speakers said they can't bring themselves to believe the county's review process is anything but a rubber stamp for wind developers.

Ranch owner Tony Lirocchi said supervisors are preparing to make major changes to his life and his children's inheritance.

"(Supervisor) Scrivner," he said, "I was instrumental to getting you elected. I'm not so sure about that decision any more."

Not all the speakers opposed wind development.

Phil Wyman, whose family owns land where the defunct Pahnamid wind energy project was proposed, said he'd still like to bring in wind development on his land.

He promised the development would stay out-of-sight from Tehachapi residents whose aggressive opposition to Pahnamid helped stall that project.

In sending the maps back to the planning department for more review, supervisors said they support a map that excludes some areas of the county from wind energy development.

Randy Hoyle of Terra-gen Power, the biggest wind developer in Kern County, said his company also supports maps that exclude concerned communities from development but leave other areas open for it.

Have something to share? Comment on this story

Bakersfield.com Daily Deal!

Uncle's BBQ and Catering

Daily Deal

$5 for $10 worth of food from Uncle's BBQ and Catering

Value
$10
% Off
50%
You Save
$5
5 Bought
Buy Now! See more deals