Jun 18th, 2024

Embracing Renewable Energy: Insights from the Strauss Wind Farm and Its Environmental Implications, Part One

As an environmental lawyer, I often work on the conflicting interplay between development and protecting nature. Recently, I visited the Strauss Wind Farm in Santa Barbara County, California, with the Association of Women in Water, Energy, and Environment (AWWEE). This trip helped me learn about California’s first coastal wind farm and its impact on renewable energy and the environment. It also showed me how renewable energy projects connect with my work on issues like soil and water pollution, water quality, and hazardous waste management.

By:  Nichole Fandino

June 18, 2024

Overview of the Strauss Wind Farm

California has ambitious clean energy goals to reach by 2035, needing 56,000 megawatts of new clean energy, according to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The Strauss Wind Project is an important part of this plan, adding significant amounts of renewable energy to the State.

Developed by BayWa r.e. Wind, the Strauss Wind Project took 20 years to complete. It has 29 big GE turbines, each up to 492 feet tall, and can power about 36,000 homes. Located 3.5 miles from the city of Lompoc, the wind farm connects to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company grid with a 7.3-mile transmission line, helping to meet local energy needs.

Despite its role in environmental protection, in fact California’s strict environmental rules made it challenging to build the Strauss Wind Farm. The project required extensive mitigation to reduce its environmental impact, meeting the State’s high standards. For example, for every oak tree removed during construction, BayWa promised to plant 10 new ones. Also, about 2,000 acres have been set aside to help the endangered Gaviota tarplant.  Even then, the mitigation might not be enough, as the tarplant needs very specific conditions to grow; it grows better when occasionally trampled, so it might not thrive in isolated areas.

Another great feature of the Strauss Wind Farm is its use of artificial intelligence (AI) with the IdentiFlight system. This technology can spot birds from up to a kilometer away, letting operators adjust the turbines to protect wildlife, including species like the golden eagle.

The project is expected to generate $40 million in tax revenue over 30 years and provide yearly income to local ranchers who leased their land. These economic benefits, along with the environmental gains, show the many positive aspects of the Strauss Wind Farm.

Look for my next post, where I discuss the environmental considerations and challenges of increasing our use of wind as a sustainable energy source.

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