Tehachapi Valley – Wind (Farm) Proposal Sparks Concern

A proposed 7,106-acre wind energy project on the north-facing mountains of Tehachapi Valley, south of the city, would extend wind turbines from the east to beyond Tehachapi Mountain Park, according to the county planning document that has set the permit process in motion.

The Kern County Planning and Community Development Department issued a Notice of Preparation (NOP) of a Draft Environmental Impact Report dated April 6, 2011, for the project, called Pahnamid. Pahnamid Wind Energy Project developer Alta Windpower Development LLC is asking that county zoning be changed to Wind Energy (WE), enabling them to place 137 commercial-grade wind turbine generators along forested mountains and scrub-covered hills west from Old West Ranch past Tehachapi Mountain Park at Water Canyon.

The WE designation would be combined with other zoning designations such as agriculture and flood plain. While the NOP maps show that much of the proposed project is outside the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area, county planner Craig Murphy, advance planning/community development division chief, said those boundaries were a general framework for productive wind areas that were drawn up years ago, and have no official weight. The significant factor is that commercial grade wind turbines can be placed only on property that is zoned WE

The NOP says that the project would include service roads, switchyards, a power collection system, communication cables, overhead and underground transmission lines, electrical switchyards, project substations, meteorological towers and operations and maintenance facilities.

The wind turbine generators would not exceed 500 feet in height, according to the proposal, and would be built at elevations of 4,400 to 7,900 feet. The top of Tehachapi Mountain above Tehachapi Mountain Park is 7,960 feet. Of the total project size of 7,106 acres, 4,820 acres would be zoned WE where turbines could be built and 608 acres would be in the category of “disturbance for facilities” (turbines, roads, support facilities, etc.).>

The NOP is the first document of the EIR process and does not represent any position on the part of the county planning department; staff will make a recommendation to the Planning Commission after the EIR process is completed. The County Board of Supervisors has the final say on the project.

Much of the mountain property on which the turbines are proposed is owned by the Wyman family and has not been developed but for a long-closed limestone quarry operation, hunting, camping and forestry. “This is all a process,” said Linda Parker, executive director of the Kern Wind Energy Association. “It doesn’t mean we are going to have a project come in or not come in. It is very, very preliminary.” She said the project is at an initial stage and there will be plenty of time for public input. “There may not be suitable places (for the turbines). Until you test the wind you don’t know.

They have to start the permitting process to start accumulating data. They will combine the data and make a sound decision.” Parker emphasized that the California Environmental Quality Act documents (NOP and EIR) are the domain of the county.

The primary operational access to the proposed project, according to the NOP, would be Summit Road, which is the southern extension of Curry St., midway between Dennison and Tucker roads. Local resident Bob Dietz and a grass-roots group called Save Tehachapi Mountain Coalition, has created a website, www.savetehachapimountain.com, to oppose the turbine project. The site includes a petition to sign. “The proposed project would potentially result in significant alteration to existing scenic vistas and; therefore, this potential impact will be further evaluated in the EIR,” the NOP states .It also states, in regard to the impact of lights on the towers, “The FAA may require nighttime lighting on Met towers and on top of the WTGs (wind turbine generators), which could adversely affect nighttime views in and of the area.” (Calpilots Editor’s Note – This is very likely, not a “might require” as it directly affects the  approach to the mountain valley airport).

ArcLight Capital Partners of Boston, New York, Barcelona and Luxembourg — capitalized at $2.123 billion — is a leading investor in Terra-Gen projects. The major new wind projects have been made possible by the construction of Southern California Edison’s $2 billion Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, which will carry renewable power south to Los Angeles. Before that, there was wind, but no way to ship its power to customers. RBF Consulting, a California firm, won the bid for the Pahnamid EIR.

After the Final EIR is complete, staff will make a recommendation to the Planning Commission. Staff may recommend approval, approval with modifications or denial of the project. The Planning Commission does not have to follow the staff recommendation. Because the application asks for zoning changes, the Pahnamid matter automatically will go to the Kern County Board of Supervisors for a vote. The board’s vote will be final.

To comment on the proposed Pahnamid project, the full Pahnamid Notice of Preparation is available online at the website of the Kern County Department of Planning and Community Development (www.co.kern.ca.us/planning). To find it, click on “Notices of Preparation” in the left (blue) column; in the next window, click on the Pahnamid project.

This article is an excerpt from the article written by TINA FORDE of the Tehachapi News.

(CalPilots’s Editor’s Note: To read CalPilots Response check the article below)