24 Jan

Olive grower wins OK for big windmill

By Peter Fimrite,

It was thumbs up for wind in Marin on Tuesday, when county supervisors unanimously approved a proposal to build a windmill to power an olive ranch owned by a former newspaperwoman.

The decision came after 3 1/2 years of stormy debate, but Nan Tucker McEvoy, the former chair of the board of the San Francisco Chronicle Publishing Co., will now be able to build a 189-foot tall windmill.

The plan is to build the 660-kilowatt wind turbine on the McEvoy Ranch, a 552-acre spread on rural Red Hill Road, a few miles southwest of Petaluma. The electricity the turbine generates will be used to power the ranch’s olive oil processing plant.

“We’re very happy, and I think it is great for Marin County,” said Tom Williard, project manager for the McEvoy Ranch windmill project. “In Marin, we export all of our pollution and import all of our energy. We need to change that around and build a sustainable future.”

It would seem a project like this would have been approved long ago in Marin, where residents support almost anything that’s alternative, especially alternative energy in support of sustainable agriculture. The Marin countywide plan specifically endorses alternative energy.

But some neighbors of the project got huffy in 2005 and objected when they found out the windmill would reach more than 210 feet in the air, dominating the scenery. Complaints came flowing in that the proposed windmill would be too tall, would kill too many birds and would be too loud.

Besieged by the opposition, the county Planning Commission rejected the project by a 6-1 vote. McEvoy changed the height and location of the windmill and appealed the case to the Board of Supervisors.

As a condition of approval, the supervisors ordered McEvoy to monitor bird kills for three years after the windmill is completed. Bird mortality is often cited as a reason to oppose windmills.

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