High up in the mountains of Tehachapi in Kern County, towers are collecting data for the city of Vernon to determine whether it’s financially feasible for the industrial city to use their purchased land to produce renewable energy.
The city hopes that by creating a renewable energy project like windmills or a solar power farm on the Kern County land known as “Fee Lands,” it will address the state mandate requiring public utilities to produce specified levels of renewable energy within a specific time frame.
Under the mandate, the city of Vernon is required by 2020 to generate 33 percent of the city’s power from renewable sources.
Surrounded by properties that have been developed into renewable energy projects, the land is “well suited for wind energy” said Vernon’s Director of Light and Power Carlos Fandino Jr. during Tuesday’s council meeting. He said the city hopes to have a project up by no later than 2018.
“While we need it now, we need to make sure we make the most prudent decision,” Fandino said.
Fee Lands was purchased by the city of Vernon in early 2010 from NextEra Energy Resources, a clean energy provider.
If approved, the city would have to first build roads to reach the site before they could begin construction on the renewable energy project, which Fandino said could take up to two years.
Fandino told the council there are a number of environmental issues the city “must tackle,” including bird kills caused by some windmills that have animal rights activist up in arms.
More importantly, for the project to even move into the construction phase, the city of Vernon will have to convince the Kern County Board of Supervisors to rezone the land from agricultural use to wind land.
The city has been collecting date for two and a half years through the Sonic Detection And Ranging (SODAR) units and met towers installed at the site to measure wind speed, temperatures and elevations of wind speeds.
“They [towers] allows us to collect the data so that we could pinpoint where the best location is for wind turbines in the area,” Fandino explained.
While there is not yet a decision on what the proposed project will look like or what it will cost, Fandino says it won’t be cheap because “we are going to need some sort of transmission line to get the power out.”
“Which path to go with will have to make the most economical sense for the city of Vernon,” he said.
As of October of this year, the city has collected data, completed environmental resource surveys, discussed permitting with Kern County and discussed compliance with various federal agencies, and had conducted field visits with city officials and department heads.
Vernon City Manager Mark Whitworth made the trip to Fee Lands and told the council he was impressed with the opportunity the city has in renewable energy projects.
“It wasn’t until you visited the site that you understand that there is 30 years of history of wind turbines up there,” Whitworth said. “There are literally thousands of these windmills in this area.”
City Finance Director William F. Fox noted the city is probably one of the only landowners who has not developed a project, but said he looks forward to the effort moving forward.
“People are successful up there in generating electricity and I know this is a very good project for the city,” Fox said.
Fandino said the next step is for the council to approve a public Request For Information (RFI), which he expects to present to the council at the next meeting.
“We [Vernon] are seeing what other technologies are available to us in the region so that we can maximize our potential with the land,” he said.
“There’s a lot of potential for the city of Vernon. Nothing has been decided at this point, we are still looking for different resources that we could put on the land in order to meet our standards.”