New Land-Based Wind Farm Proposed

Terra-Gen wind farm in Tehachapi, CA. Photo: Jurriaan Persyn, CC.
Terra-Gen wind farm in Tehachapi, CA. Photo: Jurriaan Persyn, CC.

A new wind farm is being proposed just south of Scotia along Monument Ridge. The project is near Bear River Ridge, the site of a proposed wind farm that generated considerable local opposition and was pulled by its developer, Shell WindEnergy, in 2012. The land in question is under private ownership, with a considerable portion owned by Humboldt Redwood Company and managed for timber production. The other portion is owned by a ranching family.

The number of turbines will number between 45-70, but their exact siting is still under development pending the Final Environmental Impact Report. According to the project developer, final siting decisions will be made in response to survey information developed in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to minimize adverse impacts to wildlife.

The conventional three blade turbines would sit on steel towers affixed to concrete pads. Once fully built, the wind farm will be capable of producing up to 135 megawatts of electricity. This is just about enough juice to power all 63,017 households in Humboldt County. Humboldt’s current power source is Humboldt Bay Power Plant, which is powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and diesel and produces 163 megawatts of electricity capable of powering 125,000 homes. Terra-Gen is speaking with Humboldt’s local Community Choice Aggregate, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) to see if a Power Purchase Agreement—a contract between a power producer and a power purchaser—can be developed.

In addition to the wind turbines, the project would require other related developments, including permanent meteorological towers, permanent and temporary roads, support facilities, and connections to the power grid. Power from the farm will run east, through an underground crossing of the Eel River, to connect to the grid at the Bridgeville substation. Terra-Gen hopes to begin construction by 2020 to take advantage of federal wind energy incentives that are set to expire.

The project is being developed by Humboldt Wind, LLC, a subsidiary of Terra-Gen, LLC, based in San Diego, California, which is in turn owned by Energy Capital Partners, a private equity firm. Terra-Gen owns 976 megawatts of wind, geothermal and solar power across the Western United States, with much of this in California, including major wind operations in Tehachapi. Assisting in the development of the project is Stantec, a consulting firm. Stantec is preparing the environmental review of the project and is coordinating a host of studies being completed for the project.

The project needs to go through several different types of public review before it can operate. First, the project will need an Environmental Impact Report to comply with CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act). The scoping for that process is expected to begin in August 2018. The company has begun resource surveys for rare plants, cultural resources, and wildlife. These surveys will better inform the project’s design and will contribute to the Environmental Impact Report.

Depending on the potential impacts to wildlife species that are currently under assessment, the project may also need permits under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other federal environmental laws. Permits under these may also trigger NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) project review and “consultation” under the Endangered Species Act. Each of these processes will offer a portal for public participation.

Terra-Gen has approached the conservation community to solicit input on the project’s design and to discuss our initial project concerns. EPIC, the NEC, and others are actively working with Terra-Gen on how to best avoid impacts to wildlife. We have been happy with the company’s early advances to work with the conservation community.

EPIC and the NEC are waiting for more information before taking a position on the project. Wind energy is an important component of California’s carbon-free energy future, but we have concerns about the potential impact of this project on marbled murrelets and other avian species. A key factor in our evaluation is how effectively Terra-Gen can “avoid, minimize, and mitigate”—avoid impacts where possible, minimize the impacts that do occur, and mitigate for whatever impacts still remain.