Local business leaders praise decision to expand renewable energy
Opponents hope Supervisors, court will protect scenic, cultural and wildlife resources
By Miriam Raftery
December 26, 2011 (McCain Valley) – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed approval December 20 forTule Wind Project on federal lands in McCain Valley in East County. The federal lands portion approved by the Department of the Interior constitute the bulk of the project, capable of generating up to 186 megawatts (MW) of the project’s total 200 MW capacity.
The project will need additional approvals from the County of San Diego, California Public Utilities Commission, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and California State Lands Commission. The County will hold hearings on a major use permit in the first quarter of 2012. Planning Commissioners and ultimately, the Board of Supervisors are expected to vote on the issue.
The Interior Department chose an option that reduced the number of turbines on public lands from 128 to 62 to avoid biological, cultural and hydrological resources. Tule Wind is the first of five "priority" wind projects in California to gain the Interior Department's approval.
“We applaud the effort by the Department of the Interior, which worked closely with the State of California to effectively executive the environmental process for Tule Wind and other priority projects to bring jobs and revenue to these communities,” said Harley McDonald, business developer for Iberdrola Renewables. She added that the company seeks to secure permits to begin building in time to deliver energy by the end of 2012, when current tax credits expire.
Iberdrola estimates the project will produce enough clean energy for 60,000 San Diego-area homes, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 230,000 tons and drop water use by 149 million gallons a year by displacing gas-fired power generation. The project is also forecast to add $3.5 million a year in property tax revenue to the County, support 915 construction-phase jobs and 10-12 new permanent jobs onsite.
Jim Waring, president and CEO of CleanTECH San Diego, said supervisors should approve Tule Wind as proposed “to fuel the region’s economy and meet clean air mandates.”
Scott Alevy, president and CEO of the East County Chamber of Commerce, also praised the project for beneftting “not only the environment, but also the local economies they will serve.” He called for clearing of “green tape” to move the project forward, bringing jobs and sustainability, along with “economic prosperity” to our region.
But opponents contend the project is environmentally destructive and suggest special interests pushed through approval at the federal level while ignoring the impacts on area residents and lands that the federal government is charged with protecting.
Donna Tisdale, cofounder of the Protect Our Communities Foundation and chair of the Boulevard Planning Group, said Tule Wind’s 62 3 MW turbines and new power lines, combined with Sunrise Powerlink, “will destroy the quiet beauty, ambiance, and value of this wonderful transitional area and rugged open landscapes. Giant churning turbines are even proposed for inside the Lark Canyon OHV Park and Campground and the Cottonwood Campground, and less than 1,000 feet or so from several homes, with many other homes in the impacted area.”
Some residents living farther than 1,000 feet from existing wind turbines at Infigen’s Kumeyaay Wind turbines in East County have complained of ill health impacts, as ECM has previously reported. Tisdale said local tribal members have called her and “they are devastated by destruction that the feds are allowing SDG&E, Iberdrola, and other developers to get away with. Cultural monitors say SDG&E contractors are bulldozing and driving through cremation and other religious sites. It is totally unnecessary and unconscionable.”
The Boulevard planning group chair, who represents the impacted communities, forwarded an image of McCain Valley’s iconic Lost Valley Rock, which is considered sacred by the Kumeyaay Indians along with “the Golden Eagles that soar over it, and other wildlife and cultural resources. McCain Valley, linked by ancient trails to the mountains and desert floor, is a recognized Kumeyaay ancestral homeland district. It is a great place to take your friends and family.”
Iberdrola claims its application is based on “science-baed solutions to avoid impact to all avian species, in particular, golden eagles,” according to Stu S. Weber, director of permitting and envirnonmental for the company. Weber claims only two golden eagles were observed at the project site during two years of avian use surveys, though local residents have told ECM they have seen eagles more frequently in the vicinity.
Tisdale believes “the fix was obviously in” at the federal level and says federal regulators should not have approved the project due to the biologically and culturally sensitive location in the previously protected McCain Valley National Cooperative Land and Wildlife Management Area. She and others opposed to the project contend that the Bureau of Land Management unlawfully downgraded over 15,000 acres of McCain Valley to “virtually privatize it to accommodate Tule Wind LLC and Iberdrola, the Spanish utility that owns it, at the expense of the public and those of us who live here.”
Legality of that downgrade is one of the issues at stake in a lawsuit pending in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals over Sunrise Powerlink – but a decision in that case could also have ramifications for Tule Wind. “We have a very strong case that I believe has been subjected to political influence,” Tisdale concluded, adding that SDG&E has pushed forward industrial-scale rural wind projects while fighting to stop self-generation of power through rooftop solar by homeowners and business owners “because those projects cut their profits and the need for expensive new transmission projects…”
She added, “My goal, shared with others who love this scenic area and at-risk biological and cultural resources, is to get Salazar’s unjustified approval overturned and to stop any other Tule Wind approvals.
For more information on the Tule Wind project provided by Iberdrola, visit www.TuleWind.com.
For information on what will be lost, visit these links provided by Tisdale: