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.
The Pahnamid project is designed to produce 411 megawatts of electricity.
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.
The lower elevations of the proposed development, below the tree line, are rolling hills with scattered houses and grazing cattle.
“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.
“If the applicant wants to be engaged, they can’t,” she said.
The NOP and scoping session also take the temperature of the public’s immediate reaction — they test the wind, so to speak.
“It’s definitely hit the street,” said Tehachapi City Manager Greg Garrett. “I’ve received a lot of calls about this particular project.”
Garrett said the city will be represented at the May 2 planning department scoping meeting in Bakersfield.
Residents of Old West Ranch, who recently fought the placement of commercial turbines on the east side of that community, are concerned. Part of the ranch appears to be within the Pahnamid project site plan (the maps are not clear), and the NOP names Summers Road and Snowshoe Lane on the ranch as “alternative routes of travel” for construction operations.
“It’s going through the community like wildfire,” said Buz Grantham, a resident of Old West Ranch. People are saying, ‘Whoa, what happened here?’”
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.
One of the project objectives, as listed in the NOP, is to “use land located near existing industrial facilities, mines and existing wind projects to minimize the environmental and visual impact of the proposed project.”
Other objectives include providing clean renewable energy, helping to meet the goals of California’s AB 32 greenhouse gas bill and providing more taxes for the county.
Under “Aesthetics” in the Environmental Impact section, the NOP raises issues of visual impact that are likely to loom large in the vetting process.
“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.”
Alta Windpower Development is one project of New York-based Terra-Gen Power, which is constructing the Alta-Oak Creek-Mojave Wind Project at the east end of Tehachapi Valley and on the Mojave side.
Jennifer Geeslin Piggott, communications director for Terra-Gen’s Alta Wind Energy Center on Oak Creek Road, said Terra-Gen had no comment at the moment on the Pahnamid project.
“Terra-Gen is doing very little media,” Piggott said. “They are focusing on development, construction and staying safe.”
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.
County neutral until facts are in
The California Environmental Quality Act, passed in 1970, is doing the job it was designed to do.
The Act, known as CEQA (“SEE qwa”), while it does not regulate land use, requires that all interested and affected parties get a chance to be heard and that environmental research be done before a project is approved or rejected by a county or city.
The highest level of environmental impact study is the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which begins with the Notice of Preparation (NOP).
“The EIR is a disclosure document,” said Craig Murphy, advance planning/community development division chief at the Kern County Planning and Community Development Department. “It’s meant to disclose to the decision makers and the public the potential impacts associated with the project if it were approved. It includes the identified mitigation measures.
“It is not a recommendation. The first time a recommendation is made is in the (county planning) staff report.”
One project withdrawn
Filing a development application with county planners and launching the CEQA process does not mean a project will be built, according to Murphy. “A lot of projects do a preliminary review and never move forward,” Murphy said.
One recent wind energy project, Liberty Wind, never made it past first base with the county. Developers wanted to build the project in the mountains north of Tehachapi. (It’s still on the map on the planning department website; click on “Renewable Energy” in the blue column on the left.)
“We didn’t think it was an appropriate location and it was withdrawn,” Murphy said. “There were biological concerns. It is an unusual spot. They didn’t want to go through the process.”
The Pahnamid project already is past that stage and on to the EIR.
When the Pahnamid developers filed their application with the county, it was obviously a major project.
“We said (to the developers) that you need to do an EIR and provide all the fees and forms. The first step was to prepare an NOP.”
Developers pay for EIRs on their projects but have nothing to say about who does the work.
To prepare the EIR, county planners sent a Request for Proposal to consulting firms that appear on an approved county list.
RBF Consulting, a California firm, won the bid for the Pahnamid EIR.
Agencies and the public are invited to read the NOP and provide feedback on what issues they would like to see addressed in the Draft EIR.
Following the publication of the Draft EIR, public comments and hearings will offer more opportunity for citizens to be heard.
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.
How 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.
The NOP is circulated to find out what the various agencies (like the Kern County Fire Department) and citizens want to see addressed in the EIR.
Responses to the NOP must be received at the planning department by May 6, 2011, at 5 p.m. In addition, comments can be submitted at a public scoping meeting on May 2, 2011, at 1:30 p.m. at the Kern County Planning and Community Development Department, 2700 M St., Suite 100, Bakersfield, Calif. 93301.
Comments on the NOP should be addressed to: Jacquelyn Kitchen, Planner III, Advanced Planning Division, Kern County Planning and Community Development, at email: Kitchenj@co.kern.ca.us or at the address above. The phone number is 661-862-8619 and the fax number is 661-862-8601.
The public also will be able to respond to the Draft EIR when it is published. Those comments and responses will be incorporated into the Final EIR.
Project location outlined in the Notice of Preparation (NOP)
“The proposed project is located two miles south of the city of Tehachapi, south of Highline Road and west of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road, within and adjacent to the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area (TWRA) of eastern Kern County. The proposed project is located on 7,106 acres of privately owned land under Kern County permitting jurisdiction. The land is under the lease of the applicant, or the current owners have authorized the applicant to include their land within the proposed project’s boundaries. The proposed project is generally located in the Tehachapi Mountain range within the Sierra Nevada, north of the Western Mojave Desert. Elevations in the area range between 4,400 and 7,900 feet above mean sea level.
“The nearest populated areas to the proposed site are the city of Tehachapi and the communities of Golden Hills, Stallion Springs and Twin Lakes, which are located two miles north, three miles northwest, eight miles west and three miles southwest of the proposed project site, respectively. Other communities within the vicinity of the proposed project site are the unincorporated communities of Mojave, Rosamond and Willow Springs, which are located 15 miles to the east, 20 miles to the southeast and 15 miles to the southeast, respectively. Other incorporated cities within the vicinity of the proposed project site are the city of California City in Kern County, which is located 24 miles to the northeast. The proposed project site is 19 miles to the northwest of the northwestern-most boundary of Edwards Air Force Base.”
Under “Environmental Setting,” the NOP says: “The western portion of the proposed project abuts Tehachapi Mountain Park. The proposed project is also crossed by a transmission line that angles southeast to northwest through the site’s northeastern quadrant.”
The “overhead transmission corridor” would support 230-kilovolt lines that would connect the project’s 137 turbines with the Southern California Windhub Substation on Oak Creek Road.
TINA FORDE is a Tehachapi News staff writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.