An analysis on the impacts of energy policies and projects on the future of East County
By Jessica Richmond and Miriam Raftery
May 29, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – A growing number of East County residents, fire chiefs, environmentalists and elected officials are voicing alarm over the proposed large-scale destruction of natural and scenic resources for numerous industrial-scale “renewable” wind and solar energy projects and related powerlines, substations and more. A map reveals that East County is targeted for a disproportionate share of these projects, pushed forward by energy companies and politicians who contend such development is needed to disrupt disastrous effects of global warming and fill the regional energy gap left by closing San Onofre nuclear generation stations.
But opponents say these projects are not green or sustainable, instead setting up our region for an ecological disaster in the making. They raise some crucial questions:
How did San Diego’s East County come to be targeted for fast-tracking by federal, state and county governments to facilitate construction of so many massive-scale solar and wind projects and related transmission lines in rural, mountain and desert areas instead of urban locations where demand for power is highest?
Why isn’t preference given to incentivize less destructive renewable options, such as rooftop and parking lot solar or small-scale wind turbines for use by residents, schools, municipal governments and businesses?
WAS IT FRAUD? EXPERTS RAISE SERIOUS QUESTIONS AFTER LOW FIRST-YEAR ENERGY PRODUCTION AT OCOTILLO WIND PROJECT
Elected officials suppressed key report, failed to halt project or recover taxpayer dollars
“It was heartbreaking to see this project desecrate such a historically and culturally significant landscape, and it’s even worse when you find out that it was built on false claims by the developer, and with the assistance of the BLM. "-- Anthony Pico, Chairman, Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians
An East County Magazine special investigation
By Miriam Raftery
April 30, 2014 (Ocotillo) – An international wind energy expert has concluded that Pattern Energy appears to have defrauded the federal government in order to obtain lucrative tax subsidies for a wind energy development in southern California that has failed to live up to the developer’s claims.
“I believe we have a clear case for the False Claims Act,” Nicolas Boccard told East County Magazine, after reviewing full first-year wind production data for the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility on U..S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land. The project produced only about half of the energy that Pattern claimed it would produce—far below levels deemed viable for a wind project, a second expert confirms.
These dismal results are no surprise to Boccard, who predicted in a report written before construction of the project was completed that Ocotillo lacks sufficient wind speeds to sustain a viable wind energy project.
So were Pattern's lofty wind speed claims nothing more than spin?
By Otto B. Happenin
April 1,2014 (Ocotillo) – A federal judge has ordered the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility to be decommissioned, finding that the project has failed to produce even half of the power promised by its developer, who pocketed huge federal subsidies. Much to the delight of environmentalists, tribes, and the long-suffering people of Ocotillo, Judge Roland Rock declared, “This is a wind project without wind, plus it's been an ecological nightmare. It’s time to tear it down. Let’s roll!”
He further ordered Pattern Energy to fund reparations for removing turbines, restoring natural desert habitat and creating enhanced recreational opportunities for Ocotillo residents. This will include the Ocotillo Wind River Oasis, a water slide park constructed out of recycled wind turbines. The oasis will also include a golf course, poolside bar, wildlife preserve and live simulcasts of off-road racing events at a new off-site race track. Hot air balloon rides, wafting on the very gentlest of breezes here, will provide tourists with birds-eye views of desert wildlife. (Click read more below for full story)
April 1, 2014 (Ocotillo) – Photographer Jim Pelley posted this photo on his Facebook page, which he stated was shot “early this morning, after very heavy winds last night.”
Ocotillo residents shared reactions to the surreal tilting turbine image, clearly indicating the townspeople’s sentiments about this project.
HUESO ASKS FAA TO GRANT RELIEF TO OCOTILLO RESIDENTS FROM WIND TURBINE LIGHTS, APPROVE RADAR-ACTIVATED LIGHTING
FAA may approve radar lighting systems, but won’t require Pattern to install
By Miriam Raftery
March 30, 2014 (Ocotillo) – State Senator Ben Hueso has taken heed of his constituents’ complaints about flashing red lights on wind turbines shining into people’s homes at night. In a February 10, 2014 letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Hueso wrote that flashing red lights on over 100 turbines, each taller than a 40 story building, are harmful to the health of Ocotillo residents.
“As most of them live within two miles of these turbines, the steady light transmitted from these structures is causing them to suffer from migraines, vertigo and loss of sleep,” Hueso wrote. He added that his staff has looked into the issue and found studies indicated that “residents living in such c lose proximity to turbines often suffer from illnesses including chronic sleep deprivation, hypertension and heart attack. Ocotillo is made up largely of senior citizens, a group which has been found to be exceptionally sensitive to the effects of the turbines.”
February 28, 2014 (Ocotillo) -- An Ocotillo resident has prepared a poignant video dramatically illustrating the scope of destruction done by Pattern Energy to build its Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility. The video details the beauty of the desert with closeup images of birds and other wildlife amid the ocotillo forest mowed down on 12,500 acres of public lands, then shows the construction and finished results.
Anza Borrego Foundation calls for halt to fast-tracking of all major energy projects;
Cleveland National Forest Foundation says EIR violates CEQA, fails to examine less harmful alternatives such as rooftop solar
By Miriam Raftery
February 15, 2014 (San Diego’s East County)—The Anza Borrego Foundation (ABF) and a law firm representing the Cleveland National Forest Foundation (CNFF) have submitted comments warning of dire consequences from Soitec Solar’s proposed massive solar projects in the Boulevard community. Both urge the County to put the brakes on the proposed projects, which they warn would cause irreparable harm to wildlife and ecosystems not only in rural Boulevard, but in Anza Borrego State Park and Cleveland National Forest.
January 30, 2014 (Carrizo Mountain)—The Jacumba Hikers will be hitting the trail this Saturday at 8 a.m. for an “extreme” hike to Painted Gorge/Carrizo Mountain. Heat and movement over time has created fantastic shapes and colors as the sun illuminates and plays shadows upon this geologic wonder.
By Miriam Raftery
January 28, 2014 (Ocotillo) – Tribal members from the Quechan nation traveled by caravan to Ocotillo on January 17 and 18 to mourn the desecration of their ancestors’ burial grounds by the Ocotillo Express Wind Farm. Tribal members met at the Ocotillo Community Center and staged a run carrying a banner reading "We want respect for our ancestors' remains" to the wind site, where they held an all-night mourning ceremony for their ancestors.
Pattern Energy's industrial wind facility was built atop lands known as “Valley of the Dead” by Native American tribes for over 10,000 years. The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians also objected to the desecration of ancestral remains and persuaded the California Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) that the state should take action on their behalf, but those efforts were thwarted by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
January 24, 2014 (San Diego)--A new website is dedicated to exploring how lifestyle choices and technologies impact the environment. Reviving Gaia (www.revivinggaia.com) has considerable San Diego content, including some of Miriam Raftery’s articles reprinted from East County Magazine on regional energy and environmental issues, news stories from Jo Communications and features by San Diego biologist Renee Owens.
The site’s owner/editor, Roy L Hales, was the editor of San Diego Loves Green last year and frequently wrote about net-metering, the biofuel industry and the industrialization of East County. (Some of these articles were reprinted by East County magazine.) He continues to cover these topics in Reviving Gaia.
January 2, 2014 (McCain Valley) -- While hiking in McCain Valley north of Sacatone Road on New Year's Day, Laurie Baker and her husband encountered these two Peninsular Bighorn rams.
"What a pleasant surprise!" Baker exclaimed of her New Year's discovery -- an important sighting, since the draft environmental impact statement for Iberdrola Renewables' planned Tule Wind project in McCain Valley concludes that wind turbines aren "located outside of critical habitat areas and will not have any detrimental impacts on sheep."
Finding proof of the endangered animals doesn't assure their protection, however. When Pattern Energy's Ocotillo Express Wind Facility was approved, the project's environmental report similarly concluded that the site was not bighorn habitat. When photos of a herd of bighorn on the project site were sent to then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, he issued take permits allowing up to 10 bighorn ewes and lambs to be killed, allowing the project to proceed at the expense of this critically endangered species which is at risk of extinction, according to the Bighorn Institute.
By Miriam Raftery
November 24, 2013 (San Diego’s East County ) – Earlier this year, we covered Robert Lundahl’s powerful documentary about threats to ancient, large-scale Native American geoglyphs—sacred sites that stand in the way of massive energy projects.
Now an online petition implores President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to stop the destruction of these sacred sites near Blythe, California along the Colorado River. A related spoke wheel geoglyph in Ocotillo was also at risk and now stands surrounded by wind turbines. But now an ancient Kokopillo is at risk of being destroyed completely.
By Miriam Raftery
November 24, 2013 (Ocotilo) – ECM photographer Parke Ewing photographed a troubling series of images on November 22 showing a large raptor winging its way through Pattern Energy's Ocotillo Express Wind Facility, dangerously close to the blades.
The next day, photographer Jim Pelley found a dead raptor lying on the ground at the site, one leg sliced off, apparently a victim of the turbines. It is unclear whether it is the same raptor photographed on the wing by Ewing.
A news article just published in Rewire Magazine that the new, large wind turbines such as those at Ocotillo are likely responsible for 100,000 bird deaths a year in California. Moreover, California is the deadliest state in the nation when it comes to bird deaths from wind projects, including many that are protected under the Migratory Species Treaty or the Endangered Species Act.
By Tom Budlong
I just mined the Ocotillo project's Environmental Impact Statement issued before the project was approved. The document's job is to predict the project's impacts.
On noise: “Under this worst-case scenario the wind farm would be considered an acceptable land use and…would meet the Imperial County daytime and nighttime noise limits. (p. 4.9-7).
By Miriam Raftery
October 25, 2013 (Ocotillo) – Wind turbines in Ocotillo went offline on October 21 for several days due to SDG&E maintenance on Sunrise Powerlink, according to Matt Dallas with Pattern Energy . Flashing red lights on the turbines that normally warn aircraft of the 500-foot-tall structures have also been dark, raising questions of safety for pilots at the site near the Borrego airport.
Editor's note: We received this editorial from a Canadian reader in response to our coverage of the Ocotillo Wind Energy Project's impacts on our local desert and the people of Octoillo.
By Catherine Bayne, Bayniche Conservancy
We grieve for you and yours, for the desert, the world and for the future. The wind war stories are fundamentally the same from everywhere, the disillusionment pervasive.
How could corruption of such magnitude flourish under the UN? We forgot that, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance"
By Parke Ewing
“Our desert home is not really a home any longer, it is just a place to fight wind turbine syndrome, since the turbines crank out profits for huge investment companies and CEO's get big bonuses while the uninformed public is forced to subsidize and allow production tax credits for a wind industry that could care less about renewable energy. Profit is the name of the game here.”—Parke Ewing
October 17, 2013 (Ocotillo) --I am a resident, another citizen forced to live adjacent to an Industrial Wind Turbine Facility. The Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility consists of 112 Siemens 2.3-108 wind turbines, the nacelles are 262.5 feet high, the very tip of a turbine blade at 12 o'clock measures 438' above the desert floor. This hideous project was approved and constructed by Pattern Energy surrounding the community of Ocotillo, California, which according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is designated as a "Marginal Wind Resource" area.
September 12, 2012 (Ocotillo)- Photographer Jim Pelley captures lightning show over a wind project in the Ocotillo desert.
By Miriam Raftery
September 8, 2013 (Ocotillo) – A new dust storm, flooding and more white foam flowed through Ocotillo today, heightening residents’ concerns about impacts of Pattern Energy’s Ocotillo Express Wind Energy Facility on this desert community.
At 4:40 p.m. a storm hit, sending massive amounts of dust into the air, this time coming directly from project access dirt roads created by Pattern Energy, according to Jim Pelley, who shot this video. Soon after, a storm brought flash flooding, which residents claim is worsened by drainage changes made by the wind developer. The flood brought a repeat of an unknown white sludgy substance washing across the desert floor and into the town.
“The white foam is back moving across the project. It was a bit eerie,” said Pelly, who took video of today’s white foam flood as well.
By Miriam Raftery
August 30, 2013 (Ocotillo) -- Thursday’s storm brought an unwanted surprise to residents of Ocotillo, where floodwaters swept through the desert town carrying a white, foamy sludge. You can see a video of the sludge flood on our website at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cqtr8mKDbEo&feature=youtu.be
East County Magazine photographer Jim Pelley lives in Ocotillo. He and other residents say that they have never seen the white foamy sludge before the Ocotillo Wind Energy facility was built.
“What is it?” he asked. “What effect will it have on our sole source aquifer?” The underground aquifer provides the town’s only source of drinking water. Pelley also wants to know if the contaminated water will be harmful to animals. “It has been so dry out here, I’m sure all of the wildlife is very thirsty and will be drinking this water.”
An ECM special investigation continues, finding links between rise in dust storms across outhwest, Valley Fever epidemic, and installation of large-scale desert solar and wind projects
By Miriam Raftery
August 26, 2013 (Ocotillo)--A second dust storm has struck Ocotillo on Auugust 25, just two days after an earlier dust storm swept through the desert community. Dust billowed thousands of feet into the air, dwarfing a 500 foot tall wind turbines scarcely visible in the above photo. East County Magazine photographer Jim Pelley was in the midst of the storm and shot videos:
By Miriam Raftery
August 12, 2013 (Ocotillo) – When Pattern Energy presented its proposed Ocotillo Express Wind Facility project to Imperial County Supervisors, the company promised that massive industrial wind turbines would be no louder than a refrigerator or a library. But now residents are complaining that noise levels are far louder—and they’ve provided a video to bolster their claim.
The problems foreshadow issues that East County residents could soon face when similar gargantuan wind turbines slated to be built in East County are completed -- turbines 500 feet tall with blade spans the size of football fields--far larger than any located in our region thus far.
On August 7, with many turbines still off-line due to safety issues after a blade fell off, ECM photojournalist and Ocotillo resident Jim Pelley took the following video to show the high noise levels to which area residents were being subjected: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VF8eMvb4570&feature=youtu.be Since then, the problem had gotten even worse, residents say, with more turbines now back online.
July 24, 2013 (Ocotillo) - In a dramatic video, award-winning videographer Jim Pelley takes a wild ride along a flooding roadway in the heart of the Ocotillo Express Wind Project. The brief storm, which lasted only an hour, closed Highway 98, also washing rocks and debris across access roads. (Note: video contains strong language as Pelley struggles to escape the rising floodwaters.)
Pelley, an engineer and resident of Ocotillo, has long contended that changes to natural drainage patterns made by the wind project developer, Pattern Energy, would worsen flooding in the region. Ocotillo is in a federally designated flood plain, but area residents have said that in the past, it took hours of heavy rainfall to cause serious flooding.
Photo: Debris in roadway at Ocotillo; photo by Jim Pelley
July 21, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) -- A flash flood watch has been issued for San Diego County’s mountains and deserts through Monday evening. Thunderstorms and heavy showers are forecast over mountain and desert areas. Flash flooding threat will remain high through early Monday night, especially in areas recently burned by fires.
This evening, flash flooding caused a rocky ride for motorists on roadways in East County’s mountains and deserts. Mudslides caused major delays along Highway 78 at Yaqui Pass in the Anza-Borrego area. Boulders in the roadway are blocking Montezuma Valley Road, forcing closure. Portions of S-2 and Borrego Valley Road are also shut down due to flooding and debris.
Originally posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at San Diego Loves Green
By Roy L. Hales
June 20, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – I had to chuckle when I checked my email late last night.
That morning I had posted a press release called, “A Year Later, SDG&E’s Sunrise Powerlink Delivering on What it was designed to do.” It was up for hours before it dawned on me that anyone reading the title, but not opening the article, would assume it comes from San Diego Loves Green. So I changed the title to “SDG&E says Sunrise Powerlink is delivering on what it was designed to Do.” The most important part of the article was a paragraph in which SDG&E described the projects already feeding the grid:
Originally posted Friday, June 14 at San Diego Loves Green
(Image left: taken from Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s website)
By Roy L. Hales
June 17, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – There has been a great deal of talk about little places like Campo, Boulevard and Ocotillo ever since construction began on the Sunrise Powerlink. There have been multiple lawsuits as environmentalists, Native Americans and other East County residents have fought to protect their habitat, ancestral lands and homes from the encroaching pace of “development.” As much of this area lies within the East County District represented by County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, I sought her perspective about what is going on.
Activist who filmed removal of bald eagle nest by wind developer faces multi-million lawsuit
By Miriam Raftery and Sholeh Sisson
June 5, 2013 (Ontario, Canada) -- Esther Wrightman, the Canadian activist who documented Nextera Energy's removal of a bald eagle nest to make way for wind turbines, now faces a multi-million dollar lawsuit by the multi-national corporation. Why? Because she created a parody version of the company's logo which read "NexTerror" and "NextError."
The company makes the bizarre claim that Wrightman's logo on a wind resistance blog could somehow confuse its corporate customers. But supporters of Wrightman contend the suit's real motivation is to silence a strong voice of dissent. Nextera also pressured Wordpress to remove the logos, but Wordpress has put the logos back up, finding that no law was broken.
View a video report from the Sun News Network in Canada with many details on this story: http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/video/2434478593001
May 27, 2013 (Ocotillo) -- When Jim Pelley arose at sunrise and looked out over the desert from his home in Ocotillo, he noticed something missing. So he grabbed his camera to record the unusual sight.
A Siemens wind turbine at Pattern Energy's Ocotillo Express Wind Energy facility had hurled off a multi-ton blade onto a trail on public Bureau of Land Management recreational land. Fortunately, since the accident occurred at night, nobody was harmed.
By Jim Pelley
Photos: Red Tail Hawk at Ocotillo. Thank God the turbines were not spinning! – Jim Pelley
May 22, 2013 (Ocotillo)--It’s been (1) week now since the blade throw at the Ocotillo Wind overseen by Pattern Energy. Wow! What a difference, we forgot what it was like without these wind turbines turning; it’s a breath of fresh air. Not seeing/hearing the turbines turning weather they are generating power or not is a huge difference and now that they are not turning it reminds of some of main reasons we moved to Ocotillo.
By Miriam Raftery
May 20, 2013 (Ocotillo) – Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel has granted a motion filed by citizens’ groups to remand a lawsuit over the Ocotillo Express Wind Facility from federal court back to state court.
Plaintiffs Donna Tisdale, Protect Our Communities Foundation and Backcountry Against Dumps hailed the decision.
“Since Ocotillo Express operation started in late 2012, residents complain of adverse impacts from noise, vibrations, electrical interference, shadow flicker and light pollution. People, pets and wildlife are suffering while the project’s wind production is far less than advertised,” a press release issued by plaintiffs states.