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First look at the Strauss Wind Project near Lompoc

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The first-ever wind farm along the California coast is now up and running near Lompoc. Plans for the major source of renewable energy have been in the works in Santa Barbara County since 2001. The company BayWa r.e. got the rights to it in 2016, and it finally powered up in December.

Twenty-seven massive, energy producing machines are perched atop rolling hills near the ocean about 3.5 miles southwest of Lompoc.

"Essentially, we're a power plant with zero emissions," said Strauss Wind Project Facilities Manager, Rand Lara.

The Lompoc native gave us the first media tour of the site that is accessed from San Miguelito Road.

"Anybody who is from Lompoc or the Central Coast knows it's always windy," Lara said. "So, that's definitely why they chose this location."

The breeze was light on the day we visited, but the 220-foot-long blades were turning at a steady rate. The energy they generate travels by underground cables to a substation.

"Everything collects at our substation," Lara said. "It hits a step-up transformer and then it hits these transmission lines here and it goes into town."

BayWa r.e. expects the wind farm to generate enough clean energy to power about 36 thousand homes.

From foundation to the tip of the turbine blade, the largest windmills go 492 feet up.

The spinning fiberglass blades are a potential hazard for birds. Special robotic cameras on three monitoring towers are constantly scanning for them and can distinguish between bird species.

"It's called IdentiFlight," Lara said. "It basically monitors bird species and their flight pattern. It's able to send a signal to the wind turbine to shut it down within seconds."

Steve Ferry advocated for Identiflight in leading the Santa Barbara Audubon Society's efforts to gain more protections for birds at the wind farm.

"I think IdentiFlight is a really good system," Ferry said. "It's been used on many wind farms."

Ferry questions if there are enough cameras to survey the nearly 3,000 acre site.

"You see a lot of birds there every time you go there," Ferry said. "You're guaranteed to see a red-tailed hawk every time you go there."

Ferry successfully lobbied for a plan that increases operating restrictions if too many birds are killed.

"Frankly, I'm happy this wind farm went in there," Ferry said. "I wish we could've gotten more protections for birds, but we got quite a bit."

The Strauss team says it is committed to implementing an intensive mitigation and monitoring program to reduce environmental impacts.

"It's been so awesome to be a part of this project and see all of the biologists and archaeologists and paleaontologists come out and do their job," Lara said, "and ensure that everything was constructed with the animals and plants in mind."

The county land the windmills stand on is owned by local ranchers who are leasing their property to BayWa R.E. The renewable energy company expects the Strauss Wind Farm to generate $40 million in tax revenue during its 30-year lifespan.

The energy is being sold to Marin Clean Energy where it will provide clean power to communities around the Bay Area.

Article Topic Follows: Environment & Energy

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