A contract with Aspen Environmental Group to prepare a supplementary environmental impact report on a proposed wind energy project was authorized Tuesday by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
The cost for Aspen to prepare the SEIR, which has a base amount of $310,814 plus a 15 percent contingency fund of $46,622 for a total not-to-exceed price of $357,436, will be paid for by Strauss Wind LLC.
Initially placed on the board’s administrative agenda consisting of items usually approved together in a single vote, the Strauss Wind Energy Project SEIR agreement was pulled for discussion.
Meeting in Santa Barbara, the supervisors were criticized by some during public comment who said it appears the county is giving the project special treatment by not ordering a full environmental impact report.
But supervisors disagreed that Strauss Wind is being treated any differently, and county staff said the study will be nothing short of a full examination of the proposed project.
Strauss Wind wants to erect up to 30 wind turbine generators along the ridges of a 2,988-acre plot in the Santa Ynez Mountains almost 2 miles southwest of Lompoc.
The wind turbines would be erected on the same site, but not necessarily the same locations, as the Lompoc Wind Energy Project that was approved by the county in 2009.
The Lompoc Wind Energy Project was subsequently withdrawn by the applicant, Pacific Renewable Energy Generation, which later sold it to Strauss Wind LLC.
A full environmental impact report was prepared for the Lompoc Wind project, but the supplemental study OK'd this week is required to address differences between that project and the latest proposal from Strauss Wind, according to the Planning and Development Department staff.
Andy Caldwell, representing the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, said his organization is not against wind energy, but he said the county seems to have double standards.
“We have oil fields that have been in continuous operation for a hundred years and have done all sorts of things, including steam injection, but in this day and age they have to do a full EIR just to continue what they are doing,” Caldwell said from the board’s conference room in Santa Maria.
“We’ve had wineries have to do full EIRs,” he continued. “We’ve seen single-family homes rejected from getting a permit because of viewshed impacts, and, of course, we’ve had a lot of projects forced to look at alternative locations.”
Caldwell said farmers, the Santa Maria Public Airport and the oil industry keep running into the issue of (tiger) salamanders.
“Well, wind turbines, as we know, are a giant Cuisinart for birds in the sky, including endangered species,” he said, referring to a popular brand of food processors. “And also the vibrations kill bats, which has a domino effect on a whole lot of other things.
“And (COLAB members) don’t understand, again, the double standard,” he continued. “We know, going in, that wind turbines are going to kill dozens, if not hundreds, of birds on an annual basis, and yet the salamanders … pretty much stay in the ground until it’s time to procreate.
“Yet we deal with them through EIRs and mitigations and conservation easements as if they’re easy to kill, which they’re not,” he said. “They’re hard to kill. Birds are easy to kill.
“We (at COLAB) do not understand why you’re allowing a different company, 10 years later, to tier-off on a 10-year-old EIR, with different-sized wind turbines, plus 30 miles of roads and widening Miguelito Canyon Road in Lompoc.
“You wouldn’t do that for a winery or an oil project. Why are you doing it for a wind project?”
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino asked Dianne Black, director of the Planning and Development Department, to respond to Caldwell’s assertions.
“We aren’t talking about doing an addendum to an EIR for this wind project,” Black said. “We’re talking about a supplemental EIR, which is subject to basically the same processes as a normal project-level EIR.
“It requires full public review and circulation, response to comments, requires that all applicable issues that have changed be analyzed, including alternatives,” she continued. “So, as you can see it’s not a cheap venture, it’s $357,000. Many of our project EIRs are not that much.
“This is the process we use when we look at a site that has had previous environmental review where there’s some basis for incorporating that information. But it’s certainly not meant to shortchange the process or shortchange public comment.”
She pointed out that in July the board approved analyzing the Exxon-Mobil trucking project through a supplemental EIR, and the one that’s being tiered-off from is much older than the wind energy EIR.
Black also pointed out the board wasn’t approving the Strauss project that day, just the company that will prepare the analysis.
She added there is a lot of new information about wind projects and strategies for dealing with them, and considering all that is the purpose of the SEIR.
“I think that was a touché,” said Board Chairman and 1st District Supervisor Das Williams following Black’s comments.
He added it is his understanding the project includes a “welcome redesign,” which includes larger turbines that move slower, making it harder to strike birds, although he conceded larger wind turbines might be more visible, resulting in an impact on aesthetics.
“But in my view, less bird strikes and more alternative energy sounds like an improvement on the project,” Williams said.