Tomales ranchers consider a field of wind turbines (Point Reyes Light, 04.02.2009)

Tomales ranchers are considering leasing land for the placement of wind turbines up to 20 stories tall. A Florida-based electric utility company has sent out feelers to gauge landowners’ interest, and some ranchers have already agreed to allow wind monitoring stations set up on their parcels.

“It’s a good idea but it needs to be done respectfully for the ranching community,” said Dominic Grossi, president of the Marin County Farm Bureau, which is generally in favor of clean energy, especially as a way to diversify income. “It can’t be too obstructive or interfere with the agriculture facilities and operations.”

Six months ago, representatives from Florida Power and Light approached a handful of individuals about developing wind energy. They were interested in a swath of land north of Tomales—in the wind corridor near Dillon Beach—south of Valley Ford and the Estero Americano.

“It’s a beneficial thing to make the area more diversified. If it could fly, it would be fine,” said Chris Cornett, whose parcel is on Fallon Road. Cornett would be collecting a check from the energy company if he rents out his land.

“They were getting our input to see how we felt about it,” he said. “I think it’s years away. You won’t see wind turbines here in the next few years, if it can even happen. They don’t have any go-ahead on anything.”

Cornett organized a meeting at Valley Ford town hall during the winter so representatives could address questions all at once. “They were just asking about leasing folks’ properties,” said Jeff Stump, easement program director for Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT). About 20 people attended. “Half of the people they approached are really skeptical about it, and the other half are open-minded about it,” said Cornett, who falls in the latter half.

Landowners at the meeting wanted more information than the Florida-based company could provide at the time. The company, on the other hand, couldn’t answer those questions without having a better sense of the project’s plausibility. “What they were looking for was an approval and to maybe get some long term leases going. They didn’t want to put their money into testing if everybody is against it,” Cornett said. “But everybody thought, ‘Go get permits and then we’ll see.’”

Florida Light and Power will need approval from the California Coastal Commission and the county. “The County of Marin is very interested in renewable energy, and I think that we all share a responsibility for developing new sources of energy that are less impacting on climate change,” said Supervisor Steve Kinsey. “They are proposing some very large wind turbine towers. I think they have a long, long, long way to go.”

According to Stump, there are a lot of hoops for the company to jump through, and MALT is one of them. “The process would start with MALT landowners coming to us,” he said.

Cornett added, “They’re not going to get any long term-leases until they come back with where and how many.”

Florida Light and Power has permission to test the wind and has secured short-term leases for test plots. Cornett is supplying a plot where a wind meter will be installed. There has to be a definite amount of wind blowing at a certain speed for a specific percentage of the time for the project to be worth it. If strong enough currents exist, there can only be one turbine per 50 acres, and they have to be spaced a certain distance from any dwellings.

The company currently obtains more than half of its electricity from natural gas, and they operate turbines in at least two of the main wind resource areas in California—the windfarm in Altamont Pass in Alameda County between Livermore and Tracy and the windfarm near Rio Vista in Solano County.

The Tomales project would probably supply power to local Pacific Gas and Electric.

There are two energy-producing windmills in Marin. Mark Pasternak, owner of Devils Gulch Ranch in Nicasio, faced opposition for his 80-foot windmill, which was approved in 2003. McEvoy Olive Ranch between Nicasio and Petaluma proposed one 210-foot wind turbine in 2005. The majority of the county planning commissioners voted against the windmill on account of its size—about as tall as a 20-story building—potential noise impact and, above all, aesthetics. In 2007, a much shorter, under 150-foot windmill on McEvoy Ranch was approved.

Bolinas Community Public Utility District proposed a windmill northwest of town in 2002; Inverness Public Utility District proposed developing wind energy in 1990.

“Obviously people want greener energy—they just don’t want to look at it and how it’s made,” Cornett said. “It would be like big windmills over the Point, I doubt people would want to see that. ‘Put that stuff somewhere we can’t see it.’”

Kinsey added: “There’s a critical policy issue that the community and county face reconciling our commitment to renewable energy with our longstanding passion for undeveloped viewsheds. In the foreseeable future, the thought of seeing windfarms like the Livermore Hills in West Marin is about as likely as a nuclear plant being built on Bodega Head.”

~ by Janet Fang on April 4, 2009.

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