Decision puts families and eagles at risk, Protect Our Communities warns
Wind-turbine fire on Campo Reservation December 16, 2013 near site of wind farm lease approved by BIA in the same week that this blaze threatened nearby homes.
December 31, 2013 –On December 26, local residents learned that the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has signed a Record of Decision approving a lease for Phase II of Iberdrola’s controversial Tule Wind Project (also known as the Reduced Ridgeline Project) in San Diego County. The Record of Decision has not been published in the Federal Register so is not available for the public to review even though the BIA has already issued a press release.
“The BIA’s decision is reckless and shows outrageous disregard for the high fire risk we all face in San Diego County,” said Donna Tisdale, POC’s Secretary. “The fire district that Iberdrola contracted has no air tankers or helicopters of its own, but must hope and pray that mutual aid fire agencies can spare them. And Iberdrola’s Tule Wind Fire Protection Plan shows that it plans to use the people of San Diego County as guinea pigs by relying on an experimental fire suppression technology instead of something already proven to work.”
She added, “This is a recipe for disaster. Embers and flaming debris from burning wind turbines, standing close to 500 feet tall, can easily fly thousands of feet into the brush, starting wildfires. We all know that wildfires that start in San Diego’s backcountry can roar through rural neighborhoods blazing into more populated areas of the county, threatening hundreds or even thousands of homes."
On December 16, 2013 – the same week the BIA’s Tule Wind Record of Decision was signed – a wind turbine exploded and started a small brushfire at Infigen’s Kumeyaay Wind facility on the nearby Campo Reservation, close to homes (photo, right). The fire required response from multiple fire agencies, including air units, to control. It came just one day after a week of Red Flag warnings and critical fire weather conditions demonstrated the area’s extreme fire risk.
Earlier this year, ECM documented numerous fire station closures in the Campo-Boulevard area, some shut down for weeks on end even during red flag alerts due to budget and staffing shortages. A foam truck designed to fight electrical fires is stored nearly an hour away at Lake Morena, due to the recent unreliability of staffing at these stations closest to the turbine projects.
Iberdrola Renewables’ wind projects have burned before. In May 2012, there was a wind turbine fire at the Barton 2 Wind Project in Worthy County, IA. In May 2009, a wind turbine at the Locust Ridge Wind Farm in Bowmans, PA burned. In New Hampshire, Iberdrola Renewables’ Groton Wind Project is currently the subject of a state hearing and may lose its certificate to operate due to Fire Marshall complaints about how the project has been constructed.
In addition, Phase II of the Tule Wind project poses special risk to eagles.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told the BIA that Tule Wind will be an eagle killer, but the BIA didn’t listen. San Diego County’s Golden Eagle population has been declining for decades and the BIA’s decision will make it even less likely that future generations of San Diegans will get to see Golden Eagles,” said Kelly Fuller, a consultant to POC. Fuller was formerly the Wind Campaign Coordinator at American Bird Conservancy in Washington, D.C.
A memo obtained by POC through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) asked the BIA for Phase II of the project to be redesigned or moved another location because of the high risk to Golden Eagles. FWS stated that Phase II “would likely cause ongoing mortality of eagles and their offspring.”
The Avian Bat Protection Plan for Phase II states that the project will apply for a permit to legally kill eagles before it begins operation. Due to a recent federal rule change, wind projects with eagle take permits may now legally kill eagles for up to 30 years. The rule change has been protested by POC and major conservation groups, including National Audubon Society, National Resources Defense Council, and American Bird Conservancy.
“This project isn’t needed because there are clean energy alternatives that pose less fire risk and are less harmful to eagles, such as rooftop solar and energy efficiency,” said Bill Powers, an energy expert who is a member of the POC Board of Directors.
Phase II of the Tule Wind Project would be located on a ridgeline on the Ewiiaapaayp Reservation and on California State Lands Commission public trust lands. This approval is only for the Ewiiaapaayp Reservation portion and would include up to 20 wind turbines.
As of December 30, “The Record of Decision (ROD) still has not been published in the Federal Register even though The Protect Our Communities Foundation (POC)) has since learned the Record of Decision was signed on Dec. 16 ,the same date as the Kumeyaay Wind fire,” POC spokesperson Kelly Fuller told ECM. She added that the POC has obtained a copy of the ROD and that it’s presentation of predicted eagle mortality at the site is “misleading.”
Moreover, Fuller stated in an email to ECM, “It omits important, already public information about the tribe’s income from the Indian Gaming Revenue Sharing Trust Fund. “The proposed wind farm would not be the Ewiiaapaayp tribe’s only source of income,” she noted.
The tribe participates in the state’s gaming revenue sharing program, as documented in the most recent report of quarterly revenue distribution. Each tribe received $275,000 in the quarter. The Ewiiaapaayp are listed as participating on page 4. http://www.cgcc.ca.gov/documents/rstfi/2013/RSTF_Distrib_48th_CommStaffReport_FINAL.pdf
Phase I of the Tule Wind Project, in the adjacent McCain Valley National Cooperative Land and Wildlife Management and Recreation Areas, was approved by the Department of the Interior (DOI) in December 2011. POC sued DOI in U.S. District Court, and the first hearing is currently scheduled for Feb. 20, 2014. To date, Iberdrola does not have a Power Purchase Agreement for the Tule Wind Project.
Protect Our Communities Foundation is a nonprofit with a mission to protect rural communities and natural resources in southern California and northern Baja California from unnecessary and harmful large-scale and industrial energy projects, and to advance smart energy solutions.
ECM has asked the tribe for comment, but has not received a response by press deadline.