Controversial San Leandro Wind Turbine Proposal Comes Before City Zoning Commission

SAN LEANDRO | After six months of slight revisions and gathering of political will, a controversial plan to erect a 100-foot wind turbine on the San Leandro shoreline near the Heron Bay tract of homes, will come before the city’ Board of Zoning Adjustments this Thursday night.

In order to raise the single wind turbine at the property of Halus Power Systems, a local company specializing in remanufacturing aging wind turbines at 2539 Grant Avenue, the city’s BZA must approve a height variance that limits structures in its industrial zone to 60 feet. The monopole proposed by Halus will reach 80 feet, if approved, with its 44-foot turbine adding another 20 feet to the structure. By comparison, the digital billboard hovering over Interstate 880 near Marina Boulevard measures 90-feet-tall.

However, ever since news of the wind turbine proposal controversially trickled out to residents of nearby Heron Bay housing development near the city’s shoreline last June, there has been vehement and growing opposition to the plan. Despite the furor, the variance was agendized numerous times for discussionover the last six months by the seven-member BZA, but quickly pulled as the owner of Halus Louis Rigaud reportedly tweaked the proposal.

The current reports associated with the plan show little has changed from the initial plan last summer, when some Heron Bay residents charged the city with attempting to push through a favored “green tech” firm’s plan, which in turn, would burnish its attempt to rebrand the city as a hub of clean and renewable energy technologies. In the staff report for Thursday night’s meeting, it determined the wind turbine will achieve a section of the city’s Climate Action Plan for increasing industrial renewable energy use.

Critics have charged Halus has no intention to change its focus of retooling discontinued turbine part with more research and development following the introduction of the wind turbine, but more intent with saving money. The wind turbines will bring a windfall of $15,000 per year in reduced energy costs to Halus, the report says.

In the meantime, Halus’s Louis Rigaud and the city reached out to various local government entities for support. The Federal Aviation Administration determined the wind turbine poses no hazard to airplane navigation, according the city’s report. In addition, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and East bay Regional Park District offered no dissent. The wind turbine project site, however, is located on a Seismic Hazard Zone potentially prone to liquefaction, the report said.

Heron Bay residents are been particularly vociferous in challenging a Mitigated Negative Declaration issued last spring by the city asserting the wind turbine would not affect birds on the shoreline, nor affect residents with increased noise and shadowing. Opponents of the wind turbine have also urged the city to force Halus to offer an environmental impact report on the effects of its proposed wind turbine. City officials last year said the high price of the comprehensive study would likely be too costly for the petitioner to move forward with his plan.

Halus and the city maintains bird casualties would be limited to one death every 6.5 years with the highest risk being California clapper rails and California black rails. However, the risk is reduced by the wind turbines distance from their habitats and an assertion both species are primarily ground-dwelling. “Bird fatalities are relatively infrequent events at wind farms,” the report says and more likely at altitudes greater than 400 feet.

City staff says it visited a similar monopole in Rio Vista and found noise levels next to the wind turbine to be no greater than a running refrigerator and negligible at further distances. Noise was measured at 55 decibels nearest to Halus’s property line adjacent to Heron Bay, the report said.

The city also contends the potential of shadows from the monopole and its slowly spinning blades will not affect Heron Bay residents. According to the report, during the winter solstice, when shadows are the longest, they will only cast as far as the San Lorenzo Creek near the southwestern point of Heron Bay.

If the BZA approves the height variance Thursday night, opponents will have an opportunity to appeal the decision to the full City Council, where District 4 Councilman Benny Lee is a former opponent of the wind turbine plan as a recent president of the Heron Bay Homeowners Association. Councilmembers Ursula Reed and Jim Prola have also expressed some concern about the plan.

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