Unlocking Northern California’s Offshore Wind Bounty

Wind speeds off the coast of Humboldt County in Northern California are some of the strongest in the U.S. The region’s steady gusts are so powerful, in fact, that the area was one of three potential offshore wind energy development zones in California included by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in a public pitch to developers last year.

With around 140,000 residents, Humboldt County lacks one thing offshore wind developers like to see: a big demand for power. But the San Francisco Bay Area is a five-hour drive south along Highway 101.

If the wind energy zone off the shore of Humboldt County is fully developed, much of the estimated 2,100 megawatts of generating capacity would end up heading south to serve the 8 million residents of the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. The question is how to get it there.

The existing transmission infrastructure in Humboldt County wasn’t built to export power. An undersea transmission tracking the coastline could very well be the answer.

The entity tasked with providing guidance on transmission and interconnection, as well as other critical issues such as port infrastructure, environmental concerns and economic impacts, is the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University. Researchers at the center are conducting three studies to assess offshore wind feasibility in Humboldt Bay. Results are scheduled to be released beginning in March 2020.

Asked in an interview about the region’s limited transmission capacity, Schatz Center director Arne Jacobson said, “Saying that we are somewhat constrained is very generous. I would say we’re connected to the rest of the electrical grid by a capillary.”

Anything beyond a small pilot-scale deployment, he added, “would require some sort of upgrade to the transmission infrastructure or for a fairly significant amount of local storage.”

Piercing the “Redwood Curtain”

Part of what makes Humboldt County so appealing for residents and visitors — the region’s rugged natural beauty — makes overland electricity transmission difficult.

Bisecting the coastal plain — where the cities of Eureka and Arcata sit — and the Central Valley in the interior, are a series of north-south running, densely forested peaks of the Northern Coast Ranges. Any potential upgrades to the existing transmission network must contend with this “Redwood Curtain.”

The Schatz Center is studying three scenarios of offshore wind farm deployment: 50-megawatt pilot-scale, 150 megawatts and 2,100 megawatts, which is estimated to be the full build-out of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) designated 536 km2 “call area” in Humboldt Bay.

In September 2018, Humboldt County’s community-choice aggregator, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, submitted an unsolicited lease application to BOEM for a 100- to 150-megawatt floating offshore wind farm to be sited in waters more than 20 miles off the coast of Eureka. RCEA’s partners include a consortium of private companies: Principle Power, EDPR Offshore North America and Aker Solutions.

In June, BOEM said it anticipates conducting a California offshore wind lease sale in 2020.

In any scenario beyond a pilot-scale project, the limited transmission capacity in what grid operators call the Humboldt pocket becomes a problem.

The primary grid link serving Eureka is a 115-kilovolt line running east-to-west along Highway 36, designed to carry around 70 megawatts of electricity. “The 115 kV line can move a certain amount of energy, but it’s rather limited,” Jacobson said.

“It wasn’t really designed to necessarily export large volumes of energy,” Jon Stallman, strategic projects manager in the grid innovation and integration unit of Pacific Gas and Electric, said at an energy planning workshop in Arcata conducted by the California Energy Commission in April 2018.

An even more constrained 60 kV transmission line runs along Highway 101 in southern Humboldt County toward the Central Valley.

“To change that system to make it larger is going to be a fairly costly event,” said Stallman.

The average load in Humboldt County is around 110 megawatts, and peak load is between 150 and 170 megawatts. So, even if wind energy development in the area was limited to the project proposed by the Redwood Coast Energy Authority — up to 150 megawatts — exporting at least some power would be necessary.

And a full build-out of Humboldt County’s 2,100-megawatt offshore wind potential would require a significant investment in transmission infrastructure.

The 115 kV line that serves Eureka connects with the larger California grid at a substation in Cottonwood, where it links to the 500 kV, north-south California-Oregon Intertie. If Humboldt Bay offshore wind farms are to export over land, PG&E’s Stallman said grid operators will have to determine if that California-Oregon transmission backbone can carry the additional load.

“We’ve got to take a look at the contracted bandwidth and figure out how we’re going to make room,” said Stallman.

Undersea cable for gigawatt-scale deployment?

No developer has yet proposed building a subsea transmission cable from a substation offshore Humboldt County to the San Francisco region, Jacobson said.

Even so, the Schatz Center is looking into the costs, as well as the technical and environmental challenges. A team in the Seattle office of the coastal engineering firm Mott MacDonald is handling the conceptual design of the undersea cable, while PG&E is tasked with estimating the transmission cost upgrades.

“The challenges would be many, but the challenges are also many with the overland routes,” Jacobson noted.

What is clear is that any offshore wind project in the region larger than pilot-scale — and certainly at full build-out — is contingent on transmission expansion.

“If you were just trying to scale it to the local load, I don’t think you would make it as large as 150 megawatts,” said Jacobson.

“On the other hand,” he went on, “from a profitability perspective, or a cost-viability perspective for investors, I don’t know that it’s that interesting to just build something for this region without leaving a pathway for scaling to something larger.”

“My sense is, and what we’ve heard from developers, is that they’re very happy to do something at [150 megawatts] as a next step in their process, but, ultimately, to become profitable, they need something at a larger scale.”

Unlike the Central Coast, California’s other promising offshore wind energy zone, Humboldt County does not face conflicts with active military uses.

“The major constraint we have that’s different from other parts of the state is the transmission one,” said Jacobson. “If there’s not a solution to the transmission issue, there really wouldn’t be a pathway forward at scale here.”

 

Unlocking Northern California’s Offshore Wind Bounty, by Justin Gerdes, Greentech Media, September 30, 2019.

California wants a carbon-free economy by 2045: Can floating offshore wind help it get there?

Emerging floating offshore wind technologies could save California electricity customers billions in the next two decades and play a key role in achieving the state’s ambitious climate and renewable energy goals, a new report concludes.

But the mechanics of floating wind remain unproven at scale and developers face multiple permitting and financing hurdles. Nevertheless, California could be where floating offshore wind (OSW) finally breaks into the U.S. market, developers and offshore wind researchers told Utility Dive.

An August study by Energy + Environment Economics (E3) found California ratepayer savings could reach $2 billion due to OSW’s “proximity to in-state electricity demand” and could produce up to 9 GW of emissions-free energy by 2040 at substantial customer savings.

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Local Enviro Groups Demand Changes to Proposed Terra-Gen Wind Energy Project Slated for Ridges South of Rio Dell

Local environmental leaders want some changes made to a planned wind energy project that calls for dozens of large turbines to be installed atop two mountain ridges south of Rio Dell.

Seven local conservation groups signed onto a letter sent today to Humboldt County Planning and Building Director John H. Ford. While the groups voice their support for “rapid action” to combat climate change, their letter insists on a number of conditions before any of them will condone the project, which is being developed by renewable energy firm Terra-Gen.

The most significant of these conditions is a demand that Terra-Gen abandon plans to locate any turbines atop Bear River Ridge, one of two spots (along with Monument Ridge) where they company plans to install turbines of up to 600 feet tall.

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Humboldt County addressing our climate future with new committee

A new committee will advise the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on climate change and what it will take for the county to address it.

The committee takes on after similar efforts that have pushed Mendocino County forward in combating carbon emissions and human-caused damage to the environment.

“We want to prioritize climate change issues and incorporate it into the broader picture,” said Walter Smith, a Mendocino County citizen whose own committee idea inspired Humboldt County’s concept.

While Humboldt County’s committee does not yet have any members, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously for it as they hoped aloud it would be a step toward meaningful progress.

“The younger generations realize we can’t really just play around with this,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Madrone. “We need to take action — probably a long time ago, but today, tomorrow, is better than not doing it at all.”

The committee is formed with specific tasks, including tracking the county’s total greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage. It could also make recommendations to the supervisors about creating future carbon sequestration farms.

This isn’t the first time the county has attempted progress in addressing climate change. Last September, the board voted unanimously to reach 100% clean energy by 2025.

The new committee will advise the board on tangible policy changes to get there. Madrone emphasized repeatedly that an incentive-based approach will win out over blanket threats or sanctions.

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn introduced the new committee, admitting multiple times during Tuesday’s meeting that he wouldn’t have been anyone’s first guess as a climate activist. But it’s time to get serious, he said.

“We’re not going to get anywhere unless we have a seat at the table,” Bohn said about the county’s participation in climate-based efforts.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson noted that the county hasn’t always been on top of the ball in climate progress. He said the supervisors have appointed “climate deniers” to the county Planning Commission, a suggestion other supervisors, including Bohn and 4th District Supervisor Virginia Bass promptly scolded him for making.

“What I’m expressing is some anxiety about the speed at which some of these things are moving forward,” Wilson clarified later in the meeting, adding that climate change’s destruction of the environment is getting out of hand.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

 

Humboldt County addressing our climate future with new committee, by Shomik Mukherjee, Eureka Times-Standard, August 28, 2019.

Feds seek input on community advisory boards for decommissioning nuclear reactors

The community advisory board that provides input on the decommissioning of the Humboldt Bay Power Plant has involved a diverse group of elected officials, experts and community residents comprised of school principals and members of environmental groups, said Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper. The main way that community advisory board, or CAB, could be improved is by including tribal representation.

That’s the primary input locals gave representatives from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a meeting at the Wharfinger Building on Monday night. The representatives were seeking input on the best practices for establishing and operating community advisory boards for decommissioning nuclear power reactors.

“There’s a real need to broaden the stakeholder base in general,” said Jennifer Savage, of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit that has been working to get nuclear waste off the state’s coast.

The meeting was in the evening, didn’t have food and didn’t have child care, “excluding a lot of people who might otherwise want to participate,” Savage said.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.

“The most important thing was that there were a lot of PG&E reps who’ve been involved with decommissioning and involved in the CAB for years and years,” Kalt said. “They heard loud and clear that we want the CAB to continue as long as there is nuclear waste stored at the site.”

The decommissioning process is almost over, Kalt said, and should be completed sometime next year, “but the waste is buried underground at the top of the bluffs there in King Salmon.”

Suzanne Hosn, spokesperson for PG&E, said the safety of the community is a priority and that “PG&E plans to maintain the site for the foreseeable future.”

“We will be maintaining a presence at this site for quite some time,” Hosn said, “so the public engagement process doesn’t just come to an end.”

The federal government has been promising a repository for all the nuclear waste in the country for at least 50 years, Kalt said, but it has yet to happen. Meanwhile, the sea level is rising and the waste is dangerously close, within 115 feet, to the bluff’s edge, which has also been eroding over the last century.

“It’s probably going to be there forever because there’s no federal repository,” Kalt said.

The main focus of the meeting Monday night was the best way to go about forming and running community advisory boards. The problem is because these are companies and not public agencies, “it’s totally up to them whether they want to have a CAB that’s just a formality or whether they want to have a CAB that’s more representative of the community and actually giving input,” Kalt said.

Locally, PG&E has spent a lot of time trying to inform the CAB members about the complexities of the decommissioning process, Kalt said. The utility company has also been receptive to the recommendations of the advisory board, she added.

For instance, PG&E wanted to remediate the top few feet of the soil where the reactor was, but the reactor extended 65 feet below the surface of the soil and was right next to Humboldt Bay, Kalt said. The community advisory board succeeded in convincing PG&E to remediate the soil to a depth of 75 feet.

The community’s ongoing participation has played a big role in the decommissioning process, Hosn said, and the company is grateful for the participation of the CAB.

The Humboldt Bay Power Plant operated from 1963 to July 2, 1976 when it was shut down, according to information from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission website. In 1983, PG&E decided to decommission the plant, which involves removing or decontaminating the portions of the facility that contain radioactive waste. The community advisory board was established in 1998.

Individuals can submit comments on best practices and lessons learned about establishing and operating a community advisory board for decommissioning nuclear reactors at tinyurl.com/y5s9fm7f. The input will be included in a report to Congress and is the result of the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act.

“The problem of having stored nuclear waste is going to be an issue for generations,” Savage said, so there needs to be a focused and transparent effort to get the community involved.

 

Feds seek input on community advisory boards for decommissioning nuclear reactors, by Sonia Waraich, Eureka Times-Standard, August 27, 2019.

Schatz Lab Locks Downs Grants to Study the Potential of Wind Energy Farms off the Humboldt Coast

As capital costs for offshore wind rapidly decrease and floating platform technologies come online, the northern coast of California is emerging as a promising site for the first offshore wind farm in the eastern Pacific.

The region off Humboldt Bay is of particular interest due to its superior wind resource, existing deep water port, power interconnection capacity, and limited overlap with U.S. military operations.

To assess offshore wind feasibility for the Northern California coast, HSU’s Schatz Energy Research Center is conducting three complementary studies. Wind study #2 is being funded by a $150,000 grant from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), with matching funds from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E;). This study will evaluate wind patterns and associated energy generation profiles, estimate transmission upgrades, and assess the economic viability of three wind farm models.

  • Potential generation profile — In order to determine how offshore wind generation would align with regional and state energy needs, the Schatz Center will assess daily wind patterns and production capacity within potential lease areas.
  • Transmission and interconnection — Large scale wind generation off California’s northern coast would exceed the capacity of the region’s electrical grid. Delivering power to larger load centers in California would require significant upgrades to transmission infrastructure. Upgrades and associated costs will be estimated with collaboration from PG&E;.
  • Subsea cable transmission analysis — Energy could potentially be transmitted to the San Francisco Bay Area via undersea cable. The study will involve preliminary feasibility analysis for this possibility.
  • Economic viability — The economic viability and cost of electricity from three different sized wind farms will be evaluated for the specific context of Humboldt County.
  • The project will take the first in-depth look at the wind resource and transmission constraints in this region. Previous work has been done to characterize the general wind resource on the North Coast, but the Schatz Center will be assessing project sizes and locations that are relevant to the current area being considered for lease. This project will provide a public report that describes the opportunities for energy generation and the expected costs of transmission upgrades. A final report for this wind study will be delivered to BOEM in May 2020.

With separate funding from California’s Ocean Protection Council and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, the Schatz Center is also conducting analyses related to environmental impacts, stakeholder benefits and concerns, seismic hazards, policy and regulation, and other associated topics.

Visit the Schatz Center website to learn more about wind energy.

Board of Local Energy Agency Unanimously Directs Staff to Pursue Agreement With Terra-Gen Wind Project

The board of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) on Thursday unanimously directed staff to negotiate a power purchase agreement with renewable energy company Terra-Gen, along with two other green-electricity producers.

If signed by the board later this summer, the agreement would put to rest at least one criticism being tossed around by skeptics of Terra-Gen’s proposed Humboldt Wind Energy project — namely, that the power produced by the ridge-top turbines wouldn’t even be consumed locally.

Under the proposal, RCEA, the local joint powers authority that manages Humboldt County’s community choice power aggregation program, would enter into a 15-year contract to purchase up to 90 megawatts, or about two-thirds of the capacity from Terra-Gen’s planned Humboldt Wind energy project, which includes up to 60 turbines atop Monument and Bear River Ridges near Scotia.

The board also directed staff to negotiate two other renewable energy contracts. One would be a 12-year deal for up to 50 megawatts via a Fresno County solar energy project being developed by San Francisco-based Candela Renewables LLC, and the other would be a 15-year agreement for the full 5.5-megawatt capacity of Snow Mountain Hydro LLC’s existing Cove hydropower project in Shasta County.

RCEA Executive Director Matthew Marshall said the agency issued a request for proposals a while back, and the review team awarded preference points for local and regional projects. However, of the 13 proposals received just a handful, including the one from Snow Mountain Hydro, came from within a two-county radius, and Terra-Gen’s was the only one from within Humboldt County.

The review team consisted of RCEA staff members along with experts from The Energy Authority (TEA), Schatz Energy Research Center, TRC Advanced Energy Services, and the Humboldt County Planning Department.

“I think that the timing of this project is pretty much perfect,” Marshall said in reference to the Humboldt Wind Energy proposal. The state is currently requiring electricity providers to enter into long-term contracts for renewable power — an initiative aimed at boosting investment in green energy — and with the constraints of Humboldt County’s electricity grid, Marshall said, RCEA needed to find a new, local source if it hopes to achieve its goal of providing 100 percent renewable electricity to Humboldt County consumers by 2030.

“The timing is hitting us in stride,” Marshall said.

In recent weeks, many have voiced concerns about the Humboldt Wind Energy project, especially residents of Ferndale and Rio Dell. In fact, the Rio Dell City Council issued a “strongly worded response” to the draft environmental impact report, officially opposing the project. They argues that it was being “fast-tracked” in a way that precluded appropriate technical studies and public input.

And yet Thursday’s board vote was unanimous, meaning both the Ferndale representative (City Councilmember Robin Smith) and the Rio Dell representative (City Councilmember Frank Wilson) gave their approval to pursue a contract.

The Outpost‘s attempts to reach those two on Friday were unsuccessful, but Board Chair Michael Winkler, a vocal proponent of the wind farm, said he and his fellow board members felt the project would be “beneficial enough to customers and to Humboldt County” that a contract is worth pursuing, “despite strong opposition from some in their communities.”

Winkler said that if all the contracts are approved, RCEA would begin receiving power from Snow Mountain Hydro in 2021, Terra-Gen in 2022 (when the turbines are expected to start running) and Candela Solar in 2023.

“All together, assuming everything goes as planned, about 80 percent of the electricity delivered to customers from RCEA would come from two biomass plants, the Terra-Gen project and [various] solar projects,” Winkler said.

RCEA’s long-term plans involve procuring energy from an offshore wind project.

“Wind is our greatest resource here,” Marshall said, noting that Humboldt is not the sunniest place in the state.

And while the proposed offshore wind farm is still several years off, at least, Winkler said the technology will eventually make the agency an exporter of electricity while allowing local projects to switch from petroleum-based fuels to green energy.

Marshall said staff will now begin negotiating terms for final power purchase agreements with the three companies, and they hope to bring the matter back for board consideration at the August meeting.

 

Board of Local Energy Agency Unanimously Directs Staff to Pursue Agreement With Terra-Gen Wind Project, by Ryan Burns, Lost Coast Outpost, June 28, 2019.

Humboldt County, cities join climate pact

HUMBOLDT –  Humboldt’s county government is joining all seven cities in devising a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is also becoming a member of an international group that promotes global sustainability policies.

The county’s Board of Supervisors took several actions to advance the drafting of a Climate Action Plan at its June 11 meeting.

The collaboration between the county and the cities includes the shared funding of an $88,500 contract with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), a joint powers authority which will be the consultant for the action plan.

The county’s General Plan calls for implementation of the action plan and Senior Planner Michael Richardson told supervisors that the county, the cities and RCEA have already established working relationships.

“(RCEA) is really taking a lead role in climate action plans countywide,” he said, adding that agency has received grant funding to contribute to the effort. “We’ve already got a great start in developing this climate action plan, we’ve been working with the cities for several months now, getting the groundwork together for a successful public engagement process.”

The public outreach has begun, with a workshop held in McKinleyville on June 12. Richardson said a regional-scale public meeting will be held on July 24.

Supervisors approved the county’s $50,000 share of the RCEA contract. The agreement with the cities sets the contract’s costs shares and defines the goals of the action plan.

The county’s existing inventory of greenhouse gas emission volume will be included in the plan and each city will include theirs. Emissions to the year 2040 will be forecasted and an emissions reduction goal for 2030 will be set.

At a minimum, each jurisdiction will meet the state’s reduction goals. California has already met its 2020 goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels and its 2030 goal is to reduce emissions by 40 percent below that.

The local action plan will outline specific implementation measures and describe the greenhouse gas emission reduction potential of each one.

Supervisors also approved membership to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). Richardson said the group is “internationally recognized and “provides consulting for its member organizations.”

The board endorsed joining the group last March and followed up on it by appointing Supervisor Mike Wilson as the county’s representative.

The effort is likely to draw a high degree of community involvement.

“Not only do governmental entities think this is an important move forward, I think the community at large is very engaged in this issue,” said Supervisor Estelle Fennell.

Supervisors approved the actions with minimal discussion. “This all sounds like progress to me,” Wilson said.

The plan will be shaped by a Stakeholder Advisory Group and an environmental impact review. Local Climate Action Plan adoptions are scheduled for the spring of 2020.

 

Humboldt County, cities join climate pact, by Daniel Mintz, Mad River Union, June 25, 2019.

Humboldt Wind Project Faces Tough Scrutiny Despite Local Goal Of 100% Renewable Energy By 2025

For the second time in ten years, Humboldt County’s environmental community in coordination with neighborhood groups in the area hope to kill a wind power project proposed for Monument and Bear Ridge area south and west of Rio Dell in the most northerly part of California’s Lost Coast.

As an example, Friends of the Eel River’s Conservation Director, Scott Greacen, wrote recently,

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.

The Project

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.

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The Cost of Wind

Give me the restless power of the wind,” wrote lyricist John Hall in an anthem about renewable energy popularized by Peter, Paul and Mary. The phrase evokes sails billowing in the wind, or maybe a cooling breeze on a hot summer’s day. But in reality, wind energy on a scale large enough to power an entire community requires an industrial facility with machinery, roads and dozens of turbines that can stand up to 600 feet tall — and a lot of land or ocean water — to site them on.

This reality has been brought home to Humboldt County residents by several proposed wind energy projects over the past decade. The first, the Shell Bear River Ridge wind energy project, was soundly nixed by residents when they learned that over-sized trucks would be traveling through downtown Ferndale. Last month, a plan to bring offshore wind energy ashore was denounced by fishermen, who pointed out that large portions of the area’s fisheries might be made unavailable to the local fleet. The most recent wind energy proposal, brought forward by the San Diego-based Terra-Gen, which has already placed hundreds of wind turbines in Kern County, was discussed on May 28 at a public gathering in Ferndale’s Old Steeple.

The project, if approved by the county’s planning commission, will place up to 60 wind turbines on top of two prominent ridges — Bear River Ridge and Monument Ridge, located south and east of Fortuna. It is being opposed by many members of the environmental community, the Wiyot Tribe and some local residents concerned about the project’s effects on their viewshed.

Terra-Gen project liaison Natalynne DeLapp, who formerly served as executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center and currently works as operations director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance, outlined the proposed facility and the mitigations the company is prepared to make to reduce its likely impacts.

Approximately 100 people filled the stained-glass-decorated interior of the former church and, judging from the tenor of the questions and remarks, many were not happy with the project. Aided by Stantec Consulting Services senior biologist Yasmine Akky and Terra-Gen director of permitting Kevin Martin, DeLapp gave a 40-minute presentation on the project plans, using numerous slides, armloads of statistics and referring frequently to the project’s lengthy Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).

The project, DeLapp said, is designed to reduce California’s dependence on natural gas and reach the goal of 100-percent renewable energy by 2045. Humboldt currently buys about 65 percent of its electricity from the grid and produces the rest locally, mostly through the natural gas-powered Humboldt Bay Power Plant, though Redwood Coast Energy Authority has adopted the goal of the county attaining all its power through renewable energy by 2025. It could purchase the renewable energy from other providers throughout the state or buy some from the Terra-Gen project, if it is approved and built.

DeLapp said Terra-Gen selected Humboldt County because it is windy, has available substations “and the ability to get permitted.” Rainbow Ridge and Shively Ridge were initially considered but ultimately rejected because of too many biological impacts. Monument Ridge and Bear River Ridge are owned by Humboldt Redwood Company and Russ Ranches, which are both willing to sign leases with Terra-Gen.

The project is designed to produce 155 megawatts of energy. Because the wind blows irregularly, the turbines will only operate about 40 percent of the time and the electricity they produce would be plugged into the grid at the Bridgeville substation, 24 miles to the east of the project site. Power loss along the transmission lines would reduce the wattage to 135 megawatts, which is the maximum capacity the Bridgeville substation can handle. This, DeLapp said, eliminates the possibility of expanding the wind project at some later date.

She estimated that the project could supply 36 percent of the county’s electricity needs, but less than 1 percent of those of the entire state. It would, however, make Terra-Gen the second largest taxpayer in Humboldt County.

If the project is approved, the turbine components will be barged in through Humboldt Bay to Fields Landing, where they will be transferred to large trucks and driven down U.S. Highway 101 to an area near Redcrest, called Jordan Creek Road. Old logging roads would be re-built to bring the project traffic to the ridge tops.

DeLapp showed visual simulations of what the turbine-festooned ridge tops would look like from different vantages 5 to 7 miles away. From many of the viewing sites, the turbines were invisible. From others, they showed as faint outlines against the sky.

There are still many unknowns about the project, even though the DEIR has already been written, including the exact locations of the turbines, the number of turbines, and their heights and sizes. DeLapp emphasized that the DEIR had been written to address the maximum possible impacts, even though it was unlikely that those would be reached.

A great many questions were asked at the meeting, many of them having to do with the project’s effects upon the plants and wildlife on the ridges. Monument Ridge is heavily forested and Bear River Ridge is open grassland that supports many raptors.

Marbled murrelets, an endangered species, could be impacted, as could northern spotted owls, bald eagles, golden eagles, bats and a variety of other organisms, including condors, once they are reintroduced locally.

Akky estimated that 20 murrelets could be killed over the estimated 30-year life of the project. She said that mitigations have been created to compensate for these losses, both of the murrelets and of other wildlife, and they were described in the DEIR but did not detail the mitigations.

DeLapp pointed out that the land had been used by both Pacific Lumber Co. and by cattle ranchers and is consequently far from pristine. One could also argue that trees growing on land owned by a timber company will not stand indefinitely.

Other questions were asked about the economics of the project, which will cost about $200 million, according to DeLapp and Martin, paid for by Terra-Gen’s parent company, Energy Capital Partners, an asset management company.

“The only public funding would come in the form of a tax write-off to the company on the gains,” DeLapp said.

Martin added that Terra-Gen did not get any funding from PG&E.

“We write checks to them,” he said.

It’s also worth noting that nobody in Humboldt would see a reduction in their PG&E bill as a result of the Terra-Gen project.

These economics aside, an audience member asked how much would it cost to install solar panels on every rooftop in Humboldt County.

“I did the math on this the other day,” DeLapp said. “One-hundred-thirty-five megawatts, which is what this project is, that’s 135 million watts. The average home solar system is about 7,000 watts … 19,285 homes would need to install a 7,000 watt solar system on their roof. On the average, a home solar system costs about $15,000 before tax credits. So if these 19,000 individuals installed these solar systems, it would cost those people $289,275,000.”

(The Board of Equalization shows 35,845 single-family residential homes in Humboldt County, which would make putting solar panels on every Humboldt County rooftop cost about twice what DeLapp said.)

Questions were also asked about roads. Martin explained that a 200-foot corridor would be cleared to permit roadways to be built but that the actual paved roads would be 24 feet wide. No herbicides would be used to keep the corridors cleared, he said.

The project would bring about 300 temporary construction jobs into the county but only 15 permanent jobs, and these would go to skilled workers who are experienced with wind turbine operations, and would likely be brought in from other areas.

Some audience members asked questions about the tax credits that would be lost or diminished if the project were to be delayed. At first DeLapp insisted that a delay would not hurt the project. Tax credits, she said, would be diminished but not lost altogether.

“The project is still financially viable if it does not begin construction this year. It is not such a flimsy project that it would be immediately stopped,” she said.

However, toward the end of the meeting, to get a definitive answer Martin phoned Terra-Gen’s vice president of development, and came up with a more ambiguous answer.

“Nothing has to be started this year to receive the tax credit,” he said. “If it is not operational by the end of next year, this drops off. … So does it not get built? Absolutely not. We take other routes.”

Since the project, according to DeLapp, will take 14 months to construct and the project “would need to be transmitting electrons by December 2020”, construction would have to begin this October to make that deadline.

DeLapp clarified after the meeting that the project would still move forward if the company misses the tax-credit deadline but would be more expensive and those costs would ultimately be passed on to energy customers.

At several different times, audience members asked why a project, which would have such a small net contribution to California’s energy needs, should be allowed to have such major impacts on Humboldt’s ranges and ridges. Project proponents replied that this is a social question and urged the audience to make comments to the Planning Commission, which will review the project in July.

In the meantime, anyone willing to sift through the 800-page DEIR to find answers to their questions, can find the document at www.humboldtgov.org/2408/Humboldt-Wind-EnergyProject.

Comments can be emailed to CEQAResponses@co.humboldt.ca.us but must be received by June 14.

 

The Cost of Wind, by Elaine Weinreb, The North Coast Journal, June 6, 2019.