Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – County approval of the wind energy project proposed for Monument Ridge and Bear River Ridge is in deep doubt as public opposition has surged.
During a Nov. 7 Planning Commission hearing, the seemingly progressive renewable energy project was described as intrusive, destructive, ugly and an expression of corporate “colonialism.”
Proposed by the Terra-Gen company, the project would install 47 wind turbines on the ridges above Scotia and Rio Dell, with each 600-foot tall turbine producing two to five megawatts of electricity.
According to Terra-Gen, that’s enough to power over 70,000 households.
But most of the many people who spoke during the permit hearing had strong objections to the project’s visual, environmental, wildlife and tribal resources impacts.
David Simpson, a longtime local political action advocate, said the project has introduced a new kind of divisiveness. “In the past, in the old days, conflict was between the environmentalists and the loggers, the ranchers – that’s not true anymore,” he continued. “Now the conflict is within the environmental community itself.”
He added that the term “clean energy” is being “abused” in Terra-Gen’s case, as “the impacts of these windmills are tremendous.”
The project’s siting is also divisive, as harm to tribal cultural resources is among the significant unavoidable impacts listed in an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Adam Cantor, a natural resources specialist for the Wiyot tribe, acknowledged the importance of renewable energy but said the tribe opposes the project because the ridge sites are “super sacred and very significant biologically, ecologically and culturally.”
Like many other speakers, he said the EIR is “completely inadequate.”
Several commenters described Terra-Gen as a corporate raider of culturally important territory.
The project’s jobs creation and tax revenue benefits were described as “typical capitalist colonizer rationales” by Meg Stofsky, who often comments on racial and social issues.
“Don’t show a lack of respect for the Wiyot tribe’s knowledge and wishes,” she said.
Dr. Tony Silvaggio, a Humboldt State University environmental sociologist, said the project’s context is “the legacy of white supremacy and the ongoing attempts to erase the history of indigenous people by destroying and despoiling their landscape and resources.”
Others called attention to Terra-Gen’s parent corporation, Energy Capital Partners, a company that owns 167 power plants and invests in a range of energy production, including fracking.
Ellen Taylor, who chairs the Lost Coast League forest restoration advocacy group, said the project advances “predatory industrial expansion over which we will have little control once it starts.”
The minority favoring the project described it as part of an urgent response to climate change. “We’ve got to stop putting carbon in the atmosphere,” said Blue Lake resident and energy conservation advocate Kit Mann. “The climate crisis is going to be an equal opportunity disaster and with due and sincere respect, it’s not gonna care who our ancestors are or how long we’ve lived here.”
He added that to “avoid a bleak future, we will need not one Terra-Gen project but thousands all over the world.”
Mary Sanger of 350 Humboldt, which promotes climate change awareness and response, said it’s fortunate that the county has a “major wind resource, a resource that we can utilize to do something about climate change.”
During a presentation on the EIR, the county’s consultants said the project’s land disturbance footprint amounts to 655 acres. Estimated avian impacts include mortality of up to 50 raptors per year and 7.7 marbled murrulets over the project’s 30-year lifespan.
The combined avian death toll, including “resident and migratory birds,” is expected to range between 150 and 300 per year.
On the project’s benefits, Nathan Vajdos, Terra-Gen’s senior director of wind development, said it will displace 176,370 metric tons of carbon per year, which he described as the equivalent of taking 82,000 cars off the road.
“This is our opportunity to combat climate change locally,” he said.
He acknowledged the impacts on tribal resources but noted that Terra-Gen has made an effort to address them, reducing the number of turbines from 60 to 47.
The permit approval hearing was continued to Nov. 14, when a decision could be made. But another continuance, to Nov. 21, is possible.