A wind farm proposed for the eastern reaches of San Diego County would result in bird deaths – including those of the golden eagle – damaged vistas and Indian sites and construction-related noise and air pollution, a draft environmental report has found.
The best way to reduce the impact to the environment would be to shrink the Tule Wind farm to 72 turbines from the 134 that are proposed, and to re-route some of the related transmission lines, according to the study.
The Spanish-owned company behind the Tule Wind project said Tuesday that there’s no need to shrink it or move it, as suggested.
“The Tule project is proposed at the right site and it does not need to be reduced,” said Jan Johnson, spokeswoman for developer Iberdrola Renewables. “There’s far greater consequences and impact to the environment if the project is not developed as proposed.”
That’s because the wind farm’s power would replace electricity now made by burning fossil fuels, which adds to global warming.
Critics of energy projects in that region say they will forever mar a fragile desert that is home to endangered and threatened species and has been occupied for thousands of years by Indians who consider many sites sacred.
“It’s the wrong location,” said Boulevard activist Donna Tisdale. “I don’t think turbines should be anywhere near sensitive receptors, people or endangered species.”
She said she’s worried that the study did not properly consider the impact of noise and vibrations from the windmills on people and wildlife.
The suggested reduction would eliminate 17 turbines proposed on the Ewiiaapaayp Indian Reservation, essentially cutting the tribe out of the project.
“The tribe is committed to this project, and we’re eager to make this project a success,” said Michael Garcia, the tribe’s vice chairman.
The Kumeyaay consider the golden eagle sacred, but the land proposed for wind development has not been significantly used by the raptors for foraging, according to both biologists and tribal oral history, tribal officials said.
“We are sensitive to the species we deal with,” Garcia said.
If built as planned, the wind farm near Boulevard and Jacumba might provide up to 200 megawatts when the wind is blowing right. A megawatt is enough power for 650 homes, so this would be able to power about 130,000 homes. California utilities are required to buy one-third of their power from renewable sources by 2020.
The study’s authors, Dudek of Encinitas, warn the document is not a recommendation, and a final decision will be made by Bureau of Land Management and the California Public Utilities Commission.
The wind project’s impacts were considered together with those of a big substation and an electric line from Mexico.
The ECO substation, proposed by San Diego Gas & Electric, is designed to deal with the growth in wind generation in the region. The line from Mexico would tie into a Baja wind farm called Energia Sierra Juarez, being built by Sempra Generation, a sister company to SDG&E.
While the area is one of the windiest in the state, there’s just one major wind farm now in place, the Kumeyaay Wind project on the Campo Indian Reservation.
The draft report notes three other nearby wind farms are also in the planning stages:
* Campo Wind Project – 106 turbines, each up to 450 feet from the ground to the top of the upper blade, capable of generating 160 megawatts on the Campo Indian Reservation.
* Manzanita Wind Project – 25 turbines, 414 feet tall, on the Manzanita Indian Reservation, to produce 57.5 megawatts.
* Jordan Wind Project – 40 turbines, 430 feet tall, capable of generating up to 92 megawatts west of Boulevard.
“We’re just going to be surrounded,” Tisdale said. “Every single residential neighborhood in the area will be surrounded.”
The release of the draft study comes as federal officials want to hear about from the public about the possible impact of another, much larger, project proposed for federal land just to the east.
The newest proposal, called Ocotillo Express, would put turbines on more than 23 square miles.
It could produce up to 550 megawatts, or enough for about 350,000 homes. That’s much bigger than any other U.S. wind farm in the region, though larger projects are planned in Mexico, just south of San Diego County.
It would produce 550 megawatts when the wind is blowing right, or enough for about 350,000 homes. That’s much bigger than any other U.S. wind farm in the region, though larger projects are planned in the mountains of Mexico just south of San Diego County.
The Bureau of Land Management says it is just starting to evaluate the environmental impact of that project, and it wants to hear from the public at two meetings early in January.
It wants to know whether the project will affect air quality, wildlife, recreation, or cultural sites, or cause conflicts with water, land use, noise or places people consider wild, as well as other issues.
To approve construction of the massive wind farm, the bureau would have to amend a desert conservation plan.
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