Long-Planned Strauss Wind Farm Near Lompoc Spins to Life

Gordan McDougall, center, CEO of BayWa r.e. Wind LLC, celebrates the official opening Thursday of the Strauss wind farm near Lompoc with other officials, including Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joan Hartmann, holding scissors, inside a reception tent underneath a wind turbine. Len Wood / Noozhawk photo

Towering above grazing cows, fences and oak trees on the hills near Lompoc, the gigantic wind turbine blades circled gently.

The mesmerizing view this week belied the fact that it had taken two decades, multiple meetings and much more to finally generate electricity.

More than 100 people gathered at the hilltop site for a ceremony Thursday celebrating the Strauss Wind Energy Project becoming another renewable energy supplier in California.

BayWa r.e. installed the 27 wind turbine generators, standing almost 500 feet tall and boasting 220-foot-long blades, southwest of Lompoc. The facility will generate 95 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 36,000 homes.

Completion of the project amounted to a huge achievement and something to be proud of for BayWa and its workers, Chief Executive Officer Gordon MacDougall said.

“This is a very special project. It’s the first coastal energy project and coastal wind farm, and that is quite a bit challenging,” MacDougall said. “We are very, very conscious of where we were building.”

Seeing the wind tower generators spinning at last was exhilarating, Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said.

“I think they are sculptural, artistic and they’re so quiet. I think they’re really amazing,” Hartmann said, adding that humans have harnessed the power of the wind for centuries.

Under a tent with clear sides and a ceiling to show off the towers dotting the landscape, including one hulking turbine lurking above the ceremony, officials gave speeches and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the project expected to provide between $40 million and $50 million in property tax revenue for the county.

Marin Clean Energy, or MCE, entered into a long-term contract to purchase power from BayWa. The organization serves customers in Marin, Solano, Contra Costa and Napa counties.

MacDougall also took note of the people — 150 workers during construction and 25 now — involved in making the wind farm happen.

Even once the primary permitting hurdles passed, they had to deal with some tricky challenges, including the global pandemic, supply-chain issues, road damage related to rains and more.

“The resilience of the team coming through all that, the resilience and patience of some of the permitting agencies and licensing agencies who worked with us, is much appreciated,” MacDougall said.

Arrival of the gigantic blades and towers, which required passing through southwestern Lompoc to reach their home, attracted an audience watching from the sidewalks as they carefully traversed the route.

“The Strauss wind project builds on technology that’s been in use for thousands of years, but its role in California’s power is really revolutionary,” Hartmann said.

“These wind turbines produce power when the sun isn’t shining and stand as a beacon of progress in our fight against climate change. The importance of this project extends far beyond the project site, and it really demonstrates  innovation and environmental responsibility can go hand in hand.”

In 2001, a different firm proposed a wind farm in the same area, encountering various obstacles and abandoning the plan before BayWa stepped up in 2016.

The California Public Utilities Commission estimates that the state needs 56,000 megawatts of new clean energy resources to come online by 2035 for the state to meet its goals, according to Molly Sterkel, who focuses on electric grid planning as a staff member for the CPUC.

“This project really does fit into the big picture. The Strauss wind farm project demonstrates the state’s aggressive clean energy plans can be achieved, and that these plans can be turned,” Sterkel said, noting the pun.

“This project is part of a historic wave of new clean energy resources,” she said, adding that the state is bringing new clean energy sources online at a record pace, adding more than 5,000 megawatts last year — “the most in a single year in our state’s history.”

Various Mitigation Monitoring Well Underway

The turning turbine blades and power production don’t mean the work is done for Santa Barbara County Planning & Development Department staff overseeing what MacDougall called “the most extensive and robust mitigation program I’ve ever seen for a sustainable development.”

Project approvals required BayWa to provide restoration areas because of the removal of oak trees, native grasslands and wetlands. For instance, for each oak tree removed, BayWa must plant 10 new ones.

About 2,000 acres have been designated for the Gaviota tarplant to enhance the unique species designated as endangered.

Additionally, the IdentiFlight bird detection system uses cameras and software to monitor the sky to pinpoint birds, such as golden eagles, flying in the area to reduce bird strikes.

“It’s a tremendously exciting application, I think, of AI technology,” Hartmann said.

Multiple cameras perched atop poles standing 20 feet tall include eight with fish-eye lenses scanning an area about two-thirds of a mile.

“These cameras are measuring the size of the wingspan, they’re looking at the colorization and everything,” said Don Mills, IdentiFlight president and chief operating officer.

Software will then determine the bird species and if classified as a golden or bald eagle seemingly on a dangerous trajectory toward blades, a turbine can be shut down until the bird departs the area.

“It operates autonomously on the wind farm, and it really achieves the goal of the conservation with renewable energy,” Mills said.

BayWa must provide county staff with regular reports on the various mitigation measures.

“We’re monitoring those closely, so that’s all ongoing and will be ongoing for several years,” said Errin Briggs, a supervising planner with the county’s Energy Division.

Source: https://www.noozhawk.com/long-planned-strauss-wind-farm-near-lompoc-spins-to-life/