By Roy L Hales
In case their are any doubts, the Imperial Valley Press carried a video of the controversial Ocotillo Wind Express’ turbines in action. The last 18 turbines will be installed next Spring. “The Ocotillo Wind project is a shining example of achieving local, state and national energy goals, while being the first renewable project to connect to the Sunrise Powerlink,” said Mike Garland , CEO of Pattern Energy, said in a recent press release. The $530 million project still faces opposition from environmentalists, Ocotillo residents, and Kumeyaay Indians. There have been numerous lawsuits.
The Quenchan Indians attempted to halt the project because the land is sacred to them. There are burial and cremation sites, tens of thousands of artifacts and tribal members use the site for ceremonial purposes. Pattern’s lawyer informed the judge that if they do not finish the project in time, the could lose a $130 million subsidy. The Quechan failed and, on June 24, hundreds of people gathered to mourn the desecration of Native American sacred lands, cremation sites and the loss of what had been a pristine desert environment.
Last September, a lawsuit filed by the Community Advocates for Renewable Energy Stewardship (CARES) was thrown out because the group did not establish their precise connection to the project. None of their concerns – a claim that the project had been approved illegally, did not meet minimum wind speed requirements, and violates environmental justice protections under federal law – appear to have been addressed. In his ruling, the judge stated, “Plaintiff CARES is an organization of unknown purpose and largely unidentified membership. One CARES member has been identified on the record; it is Plaintiff’s counsel who … fails to “demonstrate immediate threatened injury as a prerequisite to preliminary injunctive relief.”
Another legal battle opens up on February 22. The Imperial Valley Press quotes Terry Weiner, Imperial County projects coordinator for the Desert Protective Council, as saying, “We have a little renewed hope because it’s (lawsuit) in front of a different judge.” The previous judge left an opening to continue the argument on the impact the project allegedly has on raptors. (According to the The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service , wind turbines kill almost a half million birds every year.)
Previous suits have pointed to alleged deficiencies in the windfarm’s Environmental impact report. There were concerns about the water quality in an aquifer that provides the sole source of drinking water for Ocotillo, Coyote Wells, Yuba Estates and Nomirage. There were allegedly no attempts to calculate how much infrasound and low-frequency noise the project would product, let alone analyze those impacts. Some experts recommend setbacks from large wind projects of at least 1.25 miles, but “dozens of residences are located within 1.25 miles of the proposed turbines on the Project site, including those in the communities of Ocotillo and Coyote Wells.” There have been concerns that the impacts of the wind facility on birds, bats, bighorn sheep and other wildlife was not adequately assessed.
The complaints have been continuous.
The East County Magazine quotes one Ocotillo resident as saying, “Prior to this wind project going on line, I enjoyed sitting on my front porch and star gazing at the beautiful quiet, peaceful sky at night… Now this is all a thing of the past, I now have bright red lights flashing in my face which I can also see inside my house which are very annoying and totally unacceptable.”
“We ought to quit believing that this is a democratic process,” said Jacumba resident Ben Schultz.
Pattern energy claims that, “the Ocotillo Wind project will provide enough clean and renewable energy to power nearly 125,000 homes in Southern California each year.”
Some of their opponents claimed there isn’t enough wind.
Image Credit: East County Magazine