By its scheduled completion in December, the Strauss Wind Energy Project near Lompoc is expected to produce enough electricity to power 45,000 houses.

Considering Santa Barbara County set the ambitious goal of reaching 100% renewable electricity by 2030, this project will be substantially helpful in attaining that goal.

Except the wind energy being produced will not stay in Santa Barbara County. The electricity will be exported to the San Francisco Bay Area.

In March, Strauss Wind Energy and BayWa r.e. filed for a federal take permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for any incidental deaths of golden eagles and other endangered species.

Since these permits can take years to secure, Strauss and BayWa requested permission from the county Planning Commission to begin operation without the permit.

Originally, county staff recommended the commissioners deny the request, but the commissioners recommended staff return with findings to approve it.

The decision was ultimately approved, as three of our local planning commissioners believe that immediately profiting by powering the Bay Area is more important than waiting the lengthy time frame for legally obtaining permission to kill endangered species.

It is for the “greater good,” they said. 

The greater good is such an interesting argument to me, because it is not based on logic. It is based on what you believe to be more important.

The greater good is subjective based on what you personally believe should take priority.

As taxpayers, we must decide what is more important to us:

  • Support the county in allowing Strauss and BayWa to begin operation without the federal take permit, and accept that the county can be held liable (fined) for any endangered species deaths.
  • Oppose the county in allowing Strauss and BayWa to operate without the federal take permit and accept that the county will not see immediate profits from exporting the electricity to the Bay Area.

The county is absolutely rigid in compliance enforcement when an individual or private company wants to do a project, and the county has no problem making the permit process as painful as possible while it drains local pocketbooks with associated fees.

In this situation, however, the county is willing to turn a blind eye to federal compliance for the wind farm, so it can generate profits off of exporting the electricity of a multibillion-dollar company.

Seemingly, laws and regulations are only relevant to enforce when the county believes it won’t make substantial money.

Choosing to make an exception for a project where it will largely profit sets a dangerous precedent. I can almost guarantee the county will not make an exception for your project when it does not generate that kind of revenue.

So who, exactly, do the Santa Barbara County planning commissioners consider the “greater good” in this situation? The county itself, local constituents, or residents of the Bay Area?

I actually do believe that sometimes rules need to be bent or broken for the greater good, if you are willing to suffer the consequences.

But I am not willing to accept the consequences of county decision makers who put profits over people (and the lives of endangered animals).

If the county is not willing to make compliance exceptions for local businesses when they will not see a multimillion-dollar profit, then it should not make the exception for a multinational corporation where it will.

I understand the taxes generated from the project will be significant. But the county will probably use those profits to hire more staff in the climate department to create more regulations requiring locals to replace their own nonrenewable energy sources, creating a slow, inconvenient and costly process as we carry the financial burden of chipping away at the county’s unrealistic climate goals.

If the planning commissioners were truly concerned with the greater good of our community, they would keep the wind-generated electricity within our county to help them reach their own ambitious climate goals.

And if the county was truly concerned with the greater good, it would adhere to the laws it enforces for others. 

Lacy Litten is operations manager for Teixeira Farms in Santa Maria and is the founder and president of Facts from Farmers, which aims to build trust and transparency among farmers and consumers through education and promotion. She serves on several community boards and industry committees, including as board chairwoman of Leadership Santa Maria Valley; a board member of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business (COLAB); and a past board president of California Women for Agriculture-Santa Maria Chapter. The opinions expressed are her own.