Wind project opponents say environmental impacts haven’t been mitigated

Planning Commission to discuss Terra-Gen permits Thursday afternoon

A rendering from wind energy company Terra-Gen shows what its proposed wind energy project would look like from an observation point in Rio Dell. The Wiyot Tribe is asking people to speak out against the project at a meeting at a Humboldt County Planning Commission meeting Thursday because it would affect sensitive biological and cultural resources. (Terra-Gen — Contributed)
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A proposed wind project on Monument and Bear River ridges is expected to face opposition at a permit meeting Thursday afternoon.

Local environmental groups have plans to join the Wiyot Tribe at the Humboldt County Planning Commission meeting in opposing the proposed wind farm as it is now. In September, a group of local environmental groups sent a letter to county Planning Director John Ford stating that the project’s wind turbines should be moved off Bear River Ridge and more mitigation measures were needed to address impacts to cultural and environmental resources.

“Many of the concerns that we raised in the letter weren’t adequately addressed,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “We will raise those concerns before the Planning Commission.”

Bear River Ridge is part of the Cape Mendocino grasslands important bird area, as designated by the National Audubon Society, which means a variety of birds have been detected at the project site, including sensitive species such as the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl, Wheeler said. As the project is currently designed, he said, “It’s going to kill a lot of bats and birds.”

Terra-Gen spokesperson Natalynne DeLapp pointed to the environmental impact report for the project, which states that it was likely about five to seven birds might die as a result of the project over the course of 30 years.

But the project is also likely to kill about 110 to 220 perching birds and no more than 10 to 25 from other bird groups, according to the project response to concerns about migratory and special-status birds.

The response states the most frequently killed birds would be the most common types in the area, such as the “western meadowlark and other blackbirds, and sparrows, including dark-eyed juncos.”

“North American populations of these species number in the tens to hundreds of millions … and the anticipated number of project mortalities for even the most common species would not have significant negative impacts on populations that large,” the response states.

The site in question isn’t just biologically important, representing the largest coastal prairie complex in Northern California, said Adam Canter, a natural resource specialist with the Wiyot Tribe. It’s also covered in archaeological sites, including artifacts directly linked to Wiyot culture, and has 81 different plant communities, 38 of which are rare or sensitive in the state.

“So it’s just an exceptional area,” Canter said.

On the other hand, Canter said the project is “going to benefit corporate elites and shareholders from out of the area and fragment our biggest resource in fighting the global climate crisis, which is our forest land and our prairies.”

The fire risk from a wind project also shouldn’t be discounted because the project has a transmission line cutting across a remote area where there currently isn’t one, Canter said.

DeLapp said Terra-Gen’s transmission lines would be built using modern technology that would make it safer and unlike the century-old, fire-prone utility infrastructure. The line would pass through Humboldt Redwood Company property, which she said is routinely working on reducing fuels that can spark fires.

Lori Biondini, Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s director of business planning and finance, said the project would help get the county to its goal of getting 100% of its electricity needs from renewables by 2025.

“The main goal is to become a net exporter which is good for the county in terms of economic development and is good for the state in terms of providing renewable energy to other parts of the state,” Biondini said.

County residents’ peak use is currently 180 megawatts, she said.

“The project is proposing around 120,” Biondini said, “so it’s a big chunk.”

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