SANTA MARIA, Calif. --After hours of public comment and debate on Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors denied an appeal calling to turn down a wind farm proposal in Lompoc. The Strauss wind energy project is now officially ready to break ground in February.
“We're ready for construction," said Daniel Duke, VP of Development BayWa LLC, the company behind the project.
The renewable energy project is close to 20 years in the making.
“We see this as a game changer for clean energy in our county. This project will power 43,000 homes and that's no laughing matter," said Jonathan Ullman of the Sierra Club, a local environmental organization.
The Strauss wind energy project calls for 29 wind turbines on around 3,000 acres of land up Miguelito Canyon Road.
“Eight now we have 8,600 solar rooftops, and two large utility scale solar projects, but this wind project will produce as much power as all those solar projects we have, so it's really important," said Michael Chiacos, of the Community Environmental Council.
Project leaders say the effort will cut down on carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 40,000 metric tons every year.
“Santa Barbara County is suffering the impacts of climate change –from fires, to sea level rise, and we need to build clean energy projects," said Ullman.
But opponents raised concerns over the wind farm's environmental impact.
Three appeals were filed against the proposal after it was approved by the Planning Commission in November.
“There's mortality of birds and bats with collision with turbines," said Andrew Graff, who spoke during public comment on behalf of Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy. “The renewable energy produced by the wind energy project will be relatively small. The wind project only accounts for 4% of the county's strategic energy goal plan for renewable energy.”
“The Gaviota Tarplant is endemic to coastal Santa Barbara County. It grows nowhere else on Earth. The epicenter of its existence is the Strauss project site," said Nick Jensen of the California Native Plant Society.
Other neighbors brought up concerns about the wind farm damaging the aesthetic of the landscape, and impacting more than 150 oak trees.
Duke said only 2 percent of oaks trees are expected to be impacted. During a presentation before the Board of Supervisors, he added that the wind farm will generate $40 million in tax revenue during its 30 year lifecycle, and that it will create more than 150 jobs.