Opinion: Colusa County: The future of climate change mitigation?
Wind energy is a powerful renewable energy resource that has the potential to alleviate U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, to the benefit of local economies. However, as with any energy development projects there are social and environmental costs. With that in mind, we strongly urge Colusa County to advocate for the future development of wind energy in both Lake and Colusa counties.
AltaGas has been bidding for the Walker Ridge wind project since June 2010 when they applied for a Right of Way permit from the BLM Ukiah office. Finalizing its environmental impact statement — a requirement for all major projects on federal lands — has indeed proven to be a lengthy process. And currently, the BLM is still reviewing the draft EIS from July, due to internal staff changes and the recent government shutdown.
But Walker Ridge is one of the more unique renewable projects in California as it straddles the ridgeline that splits two rural counties, and the project has the potential to bring considerable tax revenue and jobs to both Colusa and Lake counties. The 29 turbines will produce 60-70 megawatts of energy for the San Francisco Bay region. The electricity produced will connect to an existing PG&E transmission line, taking advantage of previously disturbed lands, and minimizing the need for more roads and any subsequent sedimentation.
The two counties are still deciding on how to split the taxes generated by the wind project; either an even split, or a division of the funds based on the amount of turbines situated on either side of the ridgeline.
Yet while wind energy is a great source of renewable energy, environmental concerns need to be addressed, and will hopefully be completely accounted for in AltaGas' draft EIS. Habitat and species protection is always a concern with development on public lands, especially when the development is occurring on a great recreational resource like Walker Ridge. The manmade Indian Valley Reservoir is also being studied in relation to sedimentation, runoff, and waste management issues that are inevitable in large-scale construction projects. Although AltaGas is committed to utilizing as much previously disturbed lands as possible, some environmental damage, including potential bird and bat mortality, is unavoidable.
The BLM has marching orders from the White House to increase renewable energy production on federal public lands in the next 10 years, yet there is still considerable opposition. Most citizens are unaware of the activities on public lands, especially the construction of major renewable energy projects. In the case of Walker Ridge, Lake and Colusa Counties have the potential to boost the local economy in a way that benefits everyone involved. The construction of the turbines will hire local workers for multiple years, and will keep a few of those workers for permanent maintenance of the substation during full-time operation. AltaGas has already pumped additionally money into the two counties from permit and development application fees, and this is only the beginning. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be split between these two counties, supplementing the county budgets for years to come.
For those who live in Lake and Colusa counties —the public should get involved and voice their opinions. Educate yourself and your neighbors. Talk to your local county supervisors about wise use of the potential future tax revenues from this project and advocate for education in your community and school districts. The collaborations that exist on this project have demonstrated an amazing partnership between communities, private developers, federal environmental organizations, and non-profit environmental organizations. Take pride that your county is a part of the solution, but continue to protect your public lands for future generations.
Climate change is real and happening. The development of renewable resources in CA has the potential to mitigate climate change exponentially. If we lose sight of the solutions, the quality of these public lands will surely degrade, regardless of future development. Climate change has already harmed our public lands more than the construction of wind turbines, and with thoughtful mitigation measures, wind energy has the potential to protect public lands from future degradation.
Emily Durante and Sarah Turner are public land and climate change mitigation advocatesin Saratoga Springs, N.Y.