Calling it "our baby," the panel overseeing the Department of Water and Power moved forward Tuesday with the Pine Tree Wind Project, approving a pair of environmental and construction deals related to the $278 million initiative.p
The venture has been held up as an example of both the promise and peril associated with the growing use of "green power," which is one of the top priorities of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's new Board of Water and Power Commissioners.
First approved in 2003, Pine Tree has been touted as a unique initiative for a public utility that would promote clean air by reducing the city’s reliance on polluting power sources. However, the project timeline has ballooned to 5 years amid problems including lawsuits and local opposition.
The items approved Tuesday include a $239 million deal with Wind Turbine Prometheus and an environmental mitigation monitoring agreement with Kern County.
“We’re moving forward step by step and committed to see this be a success,” said Commission President Mary Nichols, a former state resources chief and head of the UCLA Institute for the Environment.
The Pine Tree project will supply Los Angeles with power from 80 giant wind turbines in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The project was originally slated to start generating power in July 2004, but the completion date is now 2007. Officials cite obstacles like local concerns about project impacts and a still-pending lawsuit by the Audubon Society relating to the wind farm’s possible threat to birds.
While the challenges are significant, DWP officials are counting on Pine Tree to move the department closer to its goal of having a 20 percent renewable power portfolio while reducing CO2 emissions by more than 200,000 tons a year.
Under the deals approved Tuesday, Wind Turbine Prometheus will develop and construct the wind turbine facilities and the city will acquire ownership at the end of the project.
Meanwhile, the board approved an agreement with Kern County aimed at securing a necessary zoning change to allow construction in exchange for the monitoring of environmental effects.
Rhonda Mills of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies told the commission that her organization and other like-minded environmental groups support the project.
The model of a public utility having a contractor build a project and then taking ownership itself is a good one that the DWP should consider as it pursues more green power initiatives, she said.
“As you move forward in the next few weeks determining what your portfolio will look like, whether it’s owned or bought, looking back at how you got here today from four years ago will be a useful, if not mandatory exercise,” she said.
Also on Tuesday, Villaraigosa said the city will construct a transmission line to deliver renewable into the city in a partnership with the nonprofit Citizens Energy and the Imperial Irrigation District.
The mayor planned to give more details of the plan at an event with DWP officials today in North Hollywood.
Dan Laidman, (213) 978-0390
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