While Friends of the Eel strongly believes that an accelerated transition to clean energy is needed to stem the worst impacts of climate change, infrastructure project siting is critical to a project’s suitability, and one of this size at this particular site could have dire impacts on imperiled wildlife and their habitat. You may remember that Shell Energy had a similar proposal for the same site many years ago that was withdrawn in the face of strong community opposition.
The potential of Earth’s temperature crisis to altogether eliminate endangered species juxtaposed with environmentalists resistance to green power’s impacts on the local environment underscores the complexity of transforming a global power grid from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources and takes the scope of the conversation out of Humboldt County alone and joins it to the global effort to maintain a livable planet.
Just under a year ago, Humboldt County’s Planning Department announced that an applicant, Humboldt Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Terra-Gen, had applied to build the Humboldt Wind Energy Project, and that Humboldt County would be the lead agency in the CEQA process which would include an Environmental Impact Report.
Since then, Terra-Gen has completed the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on its proposal to build as many as 60 turbines, with 500 foot rotors, along two coastal ridges southwest of Rio Dell, to produce a maximum 155MW (155,000,000 watts) of renewable power. This is nearly equal to PG&E’s natural gas generation station at King Salmon which can deliver up to 163MW of power.
As part of the CEQA process, on Tuesday, the 28th of May, Terra-Gen hosted an open house in Ferndale at the Old Steeple to speak with the community about their proposed project. About 50 people attended the open house. Humboldt local Natalynn DeLapp, who is serving as a local liaison for the Humboldt Wind Energy Project, led the meeting.
If built at its proposed scale, the project’s energy production will be equivalent to just over a third of the Humboldt County’s current demand for electric power. However, staff from Terra-Gen stated that the plans are adaptable to input from the public and therefore details may change as the CEQA process moves forward. Already the project may pull back from most or all of its Bear River Ridge footprint after objections about its intrusion into the “Cape Mendocino Grassland” which is an important repository for native grasses and is also highly populated bird territory.
According to its website, Terra-Gen is a renewable energy company producing 1.3 GW through wind, solar and geothermal sources in the western United States. Locally, work on its proposed Humboldt Wind Generation Project in Humboldt County has already produced a completed Draft Environmental Impact Report with a public comment deadline that ended on the 14th of June.
Despite local concerns, wind power development fits into local, state and global frameworks for reducing carbon emissions as quickly as possible.
One reason such an obviously impactful project is moving so quickly is that despite local concerns, this project fits into the global imperative to reduce GHG which the State has a developed policy framework to meet stated goals on a schedule.
After the Kyoto Protocol on climate went into effect in 2005, California passed AB 32 in 2006 which began California’s process of setting goals to reduce its to decrease its carbon footprint. Currently, California’s goals are to cut its 1990 GHG footprint 40% by 2030 through a variety of strategies including increasing the percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources to 50% and reducing its reliance on fossil fuels for transportation by 50%. Currently, California releases approximately 360 mmt (million metric tons) of CO2 annually. This accounts for about 7% of the U.S. national emissions.
Humboldt County, under direction from the State of California, began its own Climate Action Plan in 2012. The County is developing its strategy to reduce local emissions as identified in the 2015 GHG inventory. The County is currently holding a set of public input meetings to identify strategies for meeting its identified goals for reducing GHG and increasing alternative energy production.
At the public meeting in Ferndale, in addition to learning about the scope and intention of the project, the audience also learned that Humboldt County has been identified as a premier location for generating wind power. The sustained wind over the ridges of the Lost Coast results in a 30% increase in power generation over the same turbine sited in another location.
Natalynn Delapp also told the audience while explaining the purpose of the project last Tuesday that Humboldt County is an “energy island.”
According to a 2011 report by HSU’s Schatz Energy Research Center entitled Humboldt County as a Renewable Energy Secure Community, and echoed in the Humboldt Wind DEIR, Humboldt County’s connection to the power grid is as tenuous as its connection to fibre optics. Humboldt County has one small natural gas line and two electric lines coming in from the Central Valley. According to the Schatz inventory,
[T]he total electrical transmission capacity into Humboldt County through the existing lines is 60-70 MW, less than half of Humboldt County’s peak demand. therefor local electrical generators are critical to meeting local electricity needs.
However, with energy, the isolation is less of a problem because Humboldt County can produce most of the electrical power it needs locally, although there are vulnerabilities. The three biomass plants at Scotia, Fairhaven and Blue Lake provide 18, 9, and 7% of Humboldt County’s electric generation for a total of 34%. 5% is generated by hydropower. As of 2012, less than a tenth of 1% of the local electric demand was being met through solar power. The natural gas generation station at King’s Salmon produces 60% of the local demand, and the Schatz report estimated PG&E gets only about 11% its natural gas from local gas fields.
And notably, Humboldt County’s own supply of natural gas has diminished by half since its 1992 peak. Without increased production through fracturing, Humboldt County is reliant on a single underground natural gas line from the Central Valley for the natural gas it needs to produce its current electricity demand.
Vadjos, the Terra-Gen Development Director, said one direct benefit to the Humboldt County community, and northern California as well, is that state law mandates that before Humboldt Wind can tie into the grid, Terra-Gen has to work with the Independent Service Operator (ISO) to determine the grid’s capacity to accept the power Humboldt Wind will produce. Terra-Gen will have to fund the needed upgrades which will ultimately lead to Humboldt County being somewhat less isolated on the grid.
At the town hall in Ferndale, one woman was especially troubled by the fact that a community or business outside the area may purchase Humboldt Wind’s power.
Questions arise about who will benefit from the power generated on Monument Ridge. The Humboldt Wind project may produce an amount of energy roughly equal to a third of Humboldt county’s current demand, and Natalynne Delapp said, “Humboldt County would be where the energy would be used. That’s the physics of energy movement. Then there is the politics of who purchases the energy. Those are two different stories.”
The physics of energy are such that power gets pulled from the grid at the outlets closest to its production. However, towns or companies buy green power through a power purchase agreements in a competitive process, and they can buy rights to renewable energy credits of power that may be produced hundreds of miles away.
According to some, the economy for transitioning to renewable energy benefits from this financial competition to associate oneself with the greenest power possible. For example, a website called energysage.com describes the “premium” consumers pay when they enroll in a “green energy program” as going “toward funding the development of new renewable energy projects.”
Vajdos agreed in part, but also pushed back on that point. He said, “Ratepayers are a primary beneficiary of increased competition among energy producers.” He explained that the local community aggregator, Redwood Community Energy Authority (RCEA) is in negotiations with three green energy projects. Humboldt Wind is one of them. Vajdos explained that any of the 3 projects being considered will lead to lower costs for RCEA, and therefor the ratepayer, than their current sources of power. Vajdos continued, “If we cannot remain competitive with “brown power” as well as other renewable power producers, we will not be in business.”
Meanwhile, the complex issues of a centralized power grid and solving environmental problems through increased infrastructure are worrisome. This subtle issue is being pointed out locally and globally. One reason the climate crisis has come into sharper focus over the past two years is teenage Greta Thunberg from Sweden. Thunberg, who has spoken eloquently at climate summits, United Nations gatherings, the European Union and the British Parliament, continues to remind global leaders, ‘We want to build our way out of a crisis created by buying and building things.”
Locally that idea was mirrored by Monday Morning Magazine co-host Jeff Hedin who said, “I am deeply concerned about Climate Change which is really caused by humans having an inappropriate relationship with the planet as a whole. We are trying to find technological solution to a behavioral problem.” And it is reflected in the impacts that the identified solution to global climate crisis may have on the problems of local environmental degradation and causes local environmentalists to balk.
During the Ferndale meeting, several objections emerged from the audience including bird mortality especially for endangered species and raptors like eagles, murralet and osprey, and clear cutting to make way for transmission lines and maintenance roads right through the heart of the Maxxam history.
Birds, including raptors, are killed by the turbine blades, trees will be cut to make way for transmission lines, and roads are more fully developed to site and then to maintain the turbines.
Terra-Gen’s Sr Biologist with Stantec, Yasmine Akky, said she estimates only 10 Marbled Murrelet will be killed by the project over the 30 year life of the project. Kevin Martin, Gen-Terra’s Director of Permit Planning, explained they are able to keep bird mortality rates much lower now than in the early years of wind power due to increased understanding of appropriate placement of the equipment on the landscape and through improving technology. Martin explained that their Alta Wind Generation Center in the Tehachapee pass, an 800 turbine wind farm shares airspace with the extremely endangered California Condors. Gen-Terra, according to Martin, invested in GPS tracking technology for the Condors, and said Gen-Terra gave that technology to the CDFW for their use in studying and protecting the extremely endangered birds in exchange for the right to also track the location of the Condors. Martin says Alta Wind staff is then able to shut down turbines when the condor come into the area.
Martin also said ornithologists continue to research and develop technology using sound and light to deter birds and bats from coming into contact with the turbines.
The Audubon Society’s mission is “to protect the birds and the places they need for today and tomorrow.” Audubon Magazine published an article on the Tehachapee Project entitled How New Technology is Making Wind Farms Safer for Birds which featured an interview with Kevin Martin in its Spring 2018 edition. At the end of the story the editors included the following statement regarding the dangers to birds from wind farms
After Audubon released its ‘2014 Birds and Climate Change report,’ which showed that climate change will threaten more than half of North America’s birds if we don’t rapidly reduce emissions, it became abundantly clear that the organization needed to focus more on expediting properly sited renewable energy. Audubon’s goal is to ensure that 50 percent of America’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2030…..
At that meeting in Ferndale, one member of the audience repeatedly stated that the project will never be net zero for GHG because the need to cut trees means an ongoing loss of carbon sequestration.
The DEIR addresses the GHG equation of the proposed project. The production, shipping and construction of the project and its components will all consume fossil fuels producing a total of 2,400MT of GHG, which averages to under 157MT a year for the life of the project.. Until more of our national energy needs are met by renewable sources, the ongoing maintenance of the project will result in 89MT of GHG emissions. And the replacement of 170 acres of forest with electric transmission lines further cuts into the net GHG budget. The DEIR calculates all these emissions, and losses in sequestration, and is calculated to reduce GHG emissions by up to 174,000 MT every year for 30 years.
The primary need for forest removal comes from the plans proposal to cut in a new easement for the transmission line from Scotia running 23 miles east over Humboldt Redwood Company land to a substation in Bridgeville. If built as currently planned, the 100 foot wide clearing to accommodate the lines, will amount to about 170 acres. There will be another 30 acres of logging to widen the roads needed to access the wind turbines.
Nathan Vajdos, Terr-Gen’s Development Director, explained in a phone interview that he is “responsible for every aspect of the project.” He also explained that the new easement is needed because PG&E has the existing exclusive easement to the Bridgeville substation. Vajdos described the Bridgeville substation as the “only place in the grid, regionally, that has the capacity for the tie-in.” He went on to defend exclusive easements. Vajdos said, that increasing the number of power lines on the easement would make it necessary to widen it due to the way power interacts on lines that are in close physical proximity to one another.
Computer generated prediction of impacts on the view looking north from the Mattole Road. [Image cropped from the DEIR]
In Ferndale, De Lapp explained that, unlike the previously proposed Shell wind project, access to the Humboldt Wind project area will have minimal impact on the cities of Rio Dell and Ferndale. An old logging road at Jordon Creek Demonstration Forest, at the northernmost end of the Avenue of the Giants, will be revamped to become the primary access road. Both Wildcat and Monument Roads will only be used in case of an emergency according to the DEIR.
During her presentation, DeLapp said that in addition to the year long construction phase employment, and the 15 jobs for a permanent energy production crew, the Humboldt Wind Energy Project will become the highest county tax paying entity, second only to Humboldt Redwood Company itself.
Before the meeting began and after it ended, conversations with people who attended revealed a wide range of opinions. One woman said her neighbor had asked her to sign a petition against the Humboldt Wind project, but she had refused because she feels wind generated power will be a benefit to the community. A man said he was both optimistic and pessimistic about the project. When queried about the reasons for his pessimism, he said, “I really think [humans] are [ecologically] past the point of no return. We are probably walking dead.” Another man said he thinks that its important our community “take one for the team” in terms of the inconvenience and consequences of the project rather than buy power produced elsewhere since presumably it would be an equal inconvenience to the people in that location.
After the meeting, Martin answered some questions. One was how a small project isolated from Gen-Terra’s home operations in San Diego can be economically viable for the company. He said that the crew Gen-Terra ultimately hires will live in Humboldt County and will not be traveling from outside the area to work temporarily. And coincidentally, while we were talking, a local man asked for contacts to the human resources department as he outlined his qualifications in energy production. The permanent crew will be about 15 people who will live in Humboldt County.
When asked about the quick pace of the project, Supervisor Estelle Fennell said opportunities for public input to the Humboldt Wind project will continue to be available through the planning process. She also said it meets a lot of criteria the County has been working toward with regard to climate action planning. Fennell predicted the Planning Commission will likely take the project up in July or August, then the Board of Supervisors when the Planning Commission process is complete.
There is no reason to stud the ridge with windmills, when power can be generated miles away and delivered by transmission lines.
It’s ugly, there are inadequate roads to support the project, and there are unconsidered details aplenty.
I personally feel that power can be successfully generated on surplus lands, East of the Warner Mountains, and delivered to Humboldt. Logistically, it would be easier, the winds are plentiful, and, there is a labor force. Housing is cheaper in Modoc and out in Nevada, and even Lakeview, Oregon, with it’s new jet-fuel plant, is more amenable to development and job-creation.
It’s best to put the generation where the resources is. Which, according to studies, is apparently those ridges. Long-distance transmission is less efficient and more costly, and would leave an available resource (wind on those ridges) unused. A widespread switch to renewable energy is going to require making use of available resources.
NIMBY is such a nasty put down. It is used as short hand for “you have No right to object to what I want because it bothers you.” Just saying.
Perhaps Mr. Kirk likes this project because it’s miles away from HIS backyard in the Arcata area and he won’t have to look at the ugly 50 stories tall turbines during the day or the flashing red lights at night. Nor will it lower his property value. Does that make him the real “not in my backyarder”? Just saying.
Everyone in Humboldt County should read the comments I submitted against this project. If you do you will probably never think of wind energy as green again. The reason is because most impacts are hidden behind fraudulent and deceptive research. In my comments I give plenty of examples and if needed could provide 100 times more. The so called bird migration, eagle and Murrelet research conducted for this project is dreadful and I explain exactly why. When looking over this DEIR it is important to understand the wind industry playbook. With this industry’s turbine related research surveys, studies and methods, they may be consistent with some state and federal guidelines, but all these guidelines are worthless because they do not adhere to or require scientific principles. Making matter worse, desperately needed wind turbine impact research, that adheres to scientific principles is being deliberately avoided by government agencies, universities, and conservation groups. As a result, wind energy developers sit back and proclaim that their research is telling truth. But what’s really taking place is that the wind industry’s contrived nonscientific research is being created to “lie” for developers.
They got us hooked on a consumer lifestyle, tell us to go shopping, to support our economy, yet all the black projects that could free our need on oil, will never see the light of day.
How about we stop feeding the military industrial budget and take those secret free energy programs back for the people.
Imagine free energy. No more $800 utility bills trying to warm or cool your old house or $400.00 gas bills commuting to and from work. Free Energy. But, but, but, what about the Ka-ching meters?
I ran across a few fascinating threads of late. One based on just facts (as far as I can tell) and the other one with facts supporting a fascinating theory. If it’s just a theory and just a theory only, at least it gets us out of the dark closet of out moded ‘new modern’ theories that have proven to be highly questionable and often times harmful.
Fun facts: https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/962013188261851136.html Fascinating Theory: https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1099515180008955904.html
“How about we stop feeding the military industrial budget and take those secret free energy programs back for the people.”
What’s pissed me off the most is that most of the claims about why this would be a bad idea were either exaggerated or completely false, and the authors obviously knew it. The “op-ed” published at Lost Coast Outpost was one of the worst pieces of utter bullshit that I’ve ever seen in my life – everything from claims that the amount of grassland lost would absorb more CO2 than the project would prevent being emitted, to using oil industry articles for every link. Does the oil industry own these people? Some of the authors of such articles claimed to represent local tribes – are they on the take too? Who is benefiting by publishing false claims in an effort to turn public opinion against clean, renewable energy?
We are seeing people getting sick of governments that don’t represent their basic interest. The entire world is full of conflicts of interest. Follow The Money.
Because corporations, stock owners and the government have shown themselves utterly impervious to the problems of rural locals. The government pushes an agenda- almost always decades behind in technology- by supplying tax payer dollars- in this case what is more likely to be harvested than wind power- to create profit for people outside of the area, who live in their 2000 square foot, power-using homes and drive long distances to good paying jobs while leaving the people living with the negatives of the actual resource extraction with no local good jobs and lots of regulation. This process can’t be trusted to help people here as the votes don’t live here. I wonder there would be a difference in public opinion if our officials supported discounted powers or some other advantage here as compensation for the loss in quality of life in resource extraction rather than charging us more because we live in isolated areas. Because that is what they have a history of doing- they impose regulations and costs here to protect everything they want to use but wouldn’t dream of locating good paying jobs here to make up for the restrictions..
I’m sure if there were a local company who wanted to build a major wind energy product, they’d receive the exact same tax incentives and other government considerations. But we simply don’t have such a company. Thus, it’ll need to be done by an out-of-area company. You’re welcome to start a competitor to them…
Of course we don’t have the infrastructure and economy to build such a project. That is the point- people come from outside, take what they want and then leave, taking the profits and economy with them. Remember the Redwood Park Expansion? Remember the huge loss of jobs and the economic desert up that was left behind? No substantial company remains viable in Humboldt Co. because sooner or later they will need something that is only economically viable south. Having long since used up their own environment , they have little qualm about doing some more damage if it makes economic sense. Unless of course it affects some rich community.
OK. That’s the nature of our location to some extent but that does not mean that the wealth of California should reach into our county WITHOUT long lasting compensation. There are many functions of State or federal government that could be located here- telephone centers, headquarters for government programs, VA Hospitals, extension UC clinics, etc. Places that could function here as well as anywhere else. That would created a continuing economy.
Government, especially the State, is in love with telling people what they can’t do in remote places but it is very cheap when it comes with dealing the corresponding damage to small population. Enough of that. If people want some resource from here, whether it is water, mountain lions or wind, let them pony up , not just regulate and leave. If it is really a matter of life and death, they would be willing.
Environmentalists are attacking everyone.there destroying any chance anybody has to survive here.im a environmentally conscious person but every industry is being attacked. Evan job producing ones that are for the slowing of global warming. It’s all for the critters I know but what about the survival of the human population in Humboldt county.!!!!!
Except it won’t create more than 15 permanent jobs, and it’s not environmentally friendly. (It really isn’t!) They can’t even guarantee that local workers will be employed long term. This project will do nothing significant to help “the survival of the human population in Humboldt county!!!!!”. Planting more trees (not cutting more down) would help long term. Teaching people to conserve energy, helping people purchase more energy efficient appliances, hell, even teaching your kids to shut off the lights when they leave the room will help our county more in the long term than this project will. Restoring wetlands, etc., and home based solar, too. Walking more, driving less. If Humboldt County Supervisors are so concerned about climate change, why didn’t they start using the harsh fines and abatements when the green rushers first started bulldozing flats and clear cutting hillsides over 15 years ago? Soil and trees are carbon sinks. I wonder how many acres of trees were illegally clear cut and how many cubic feet of soil disturbed by the same mega growers that the County has now given grow licenses to? The hypocrisy of our Supervisors, especially Estelle, disgusts me. She has no credibility due to this fact alone. Old school farmers, “mom and pops” who were good land stewards begged for help when the Green rushers messed up thier neighborhoods, and the Supes said “but there’s nothing we can do, our hands are tied”. For years we heard this from them. Then, when legalization happened, the abatements and fines came out of nowhere AFTER the worst offenders got licenses because they had the money to wade through the process and grease the right palms. The mom and pops are suffering the most now, losing thier properties and livelyhoods. The grief and heartbreak is real. It sucks, and it hurts, and I’m mad as hell about it. If the Supes and planners were too stupid to think of using abatements to stem the tide of environmental destruction over 10 years ago, when the problem first sprang up, then they are clearly too stupid to be our County decision makers. Heartless corruption at it’s finest and the little guys at the heart of our rural communities get crushed underfoot. So f’ing typical. That’s what this wind turbine project aims to do as well. I’ve had it up to here with the bullshit shortsightedness of our County Supervisors. Vote the bums out. They can get in the unemployment line along with all the small growers they put out of business under the guise of “legalization”.
“If built at its proposed scale, the project’s energy production will be equivalent to just over a third of the Humboldt County’s current demand for electric power.”
100% of the electrons pushed around by the turbines most likely will be used locally. But that doesn’t mean the paperwork won’t be a complicated mess over half the country…
NIMBYISM at its best. We need to reduce pollution, but we want good scenic views. We want electric cars to take over, but don’t want to build projects like this that would lessen the strain on old polluting power plants that cost billions to rebuild. Save the birds, but save my view of the hills!