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.
Today, Parke Ewing sent a letter of complaint to Imperial County Supervisors and the federal Bureau of Land Management, since the project is located on federal BLM public land. Pelley and Ewing recently received the Sol Price Award for Responsible Journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists' San Diego Chapter for their extensive documentation of the many problems at the Ocotillo wind project.
“As most people are aware the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility is coming back on-line after the blade throw on May 16, 2013. It appears that ten (10) blades will have been replaced and all other blades have had a field fix/repair. My property is located .51 miles from turbine 176 that has come back on-line today,” Ewing wrote.
He added, “The irritating swashing and jet engine noise has returned. Turbine 169 came back on-line last week and it is the second closest turbine to my home. These two turbines and occasionally others coupled together generate much more than electricity, they also generate noise and the decibel noise level may not be the problem. Whatever the noise is called it is too much, whether it be decibels, irritability or just plain annoyance. The noise is unbearable and nobody living in Imperial County should be forced to live with this noise. I've been complaining about the noise since the turbines came on line last December. The noise data provided in the Ocotillo Wind EIR/EIS is obviously incorrect and the effects of the noise to humans is inaccurate. Please, something needs to be done to curtail the noise.”
The problems are similar to those plaguing residents in Hardscrabble New York. There, 58 residents have filed a lawsuit against Iberdrola and its wind consultants after noise from wind turbines was measured at a higher decibel level than local laws allow. Iberdrola has reportedly hired the same noise consultant firm to conduct the studies relied upon by San Diego County Supervisors and the Bureau of Land Management when they approved wind turbines for the Tule Wind Project in McCain Valley, which has not yet broken ground in the Boulevard area in East County.
Noise issues are the latest in a long string of problems at Pattern Energy's Ocotillo wind project. Earlier this year, a multi-ton blade fell off on a public trail, prompting a shutdown of the project for several weeks and a "fix" involving glue that Pelley, an aerospace engineer, has questioned as inadequate to assure protection of public safety. The company has also drawn criticism for buying turbines and blades form Siemens, a company that has been convicted of bribing public officials and paid record fines for violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as well as investigations for corruption in approximately 20 nations.
Numerous complaints of Dust Bowl conditions created by the projects construction were filed by residents, as well as complaints that Pattern diverted natural drainage and flooded the town of Ocotillo with a flammable chemical used for dust suppression (after penalties were imposed by regulators for dust mitigation violations). The chemical washed up onto residential yards where children play and coated streets in residential neighborhoods, even as a wildfire encroached on a mountain behind the town.
The project also faced objections from environmentalists and Native American tribes. Five lawsuits over the controversial project remain in court. In addition, the California Native American Heritage Commission ruled that the BLM and Pattern Energy errred in building the project atop sacred sites including ancient burial grounds. The NAHC chair stated that he believed tearing down the project would be the only suitable mitigation. The NAHC and the Viejas tribe have asked the California Attorney General, Kamala Harris, to file legal action on behalf of Native Americans.
In addition, the project has fallen far short on power production levels promised by Pattern Energy to win federal subsidies. During the first two three-month reporting periods since the project went online in December, it has produced between 14 and 17 percent of capacity--nowhere near enough to power the 130,000 homes that Pattern originally claimed. Residents have long predicted this would happen, citing the area's historically low winds. Pattern reportedly put up wind testing towers for three years, but submitted less than one year of data to the federal government, cherry-picking only the windiest months to inflate the average wind speeds claimed.