Sometime early next year the federal government will decide whether to allow a massive wind farm to be built just east of Anza-Borrego State Park in Imperial County. The farm and the desert park would share a five-mile border.
And that’s where the plans are running into resistance with folks who don’t want to see gigantic windmills against the backdrop of wide-open Anza-Borrego, the state’s largest park. Supporters, on the other hand, say the farm fits the idea of producing more clean energy.
The plans must be approved by Imperial County and the federal government since most of the windmills would be on public land maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. The proposal calls for as many as 155 massive wind turbines on almost 13,000 acres near the community of Ocotillo just north of Interstate 8 and just east of the Imperial County line.
The windmills’ size would vary, but most would stand 448 feet tall (a football field, end zones included, is 360 feet long). Each of the three blades on the turbines would be 185.5 feet long with a total maximum rotor diameter of 371 feet.
Once fully operational, the windmills of the Ocotillo Express wind farm could produce enough energy to light 140,000 homes daily. The electricity would be transported to San Diego via the Sunrise Powerlink, the 117-mile long, $1.9 billion transmission line now under construction and expected to be built by the end of next year. The timing would coincide with when the wind farm, by Pattern Energy, the parent of Ocotillo Express LLC, would start generating power.
The BLM is expected to reach a decision by next spring, after a series of public meetings and a comment period that has now closed.
One opponent is Mark Jorgensen, the retired superintendent of the state park, who sent a blistering letter to the BLM last month.
“I am astounded the Ocotillo Express Wind Project has been proposed in this location, with total disregard for the natural and cultural resources of our desert,” Jorgensen wrote as an individual and not an official park’s department spokesman.
“Here is a proposal to destroy 13,000 acres of our public lands for a private industrial investment zone. This site will be desecrated, but so will hundreds of thousands of acres of surrounding lands with their view shed qualities destroyed.”
Jorgensen said he recently stood near the southeastern boundary of the 620,000-acre park and looked to the east.
“(I) tried to imagine the sea of 450-foot tall steel towers looming above me. What I saw was an IRON CURTAIN, a massive industrial mega-complex conceived by some money-hungry mongers from another world. … We moved to this desert because we love it. We fight to protect it. Energy should be developed in the regions where it will be consumed, not hundreds of miles away and then wastefully transported into the cities.”
In February, SDG&E announced it had entered into a 20-year contract for 315 megawatts of wind energy from the Ocotillo farm. The project is scheduled to be built in two phases with the first phase to be completed by the end of 2012 and more towers built in 2013. In all, 465 megawatts would be produced, officials say.
“This project presents a unique opportunity for a significant volume of environmentally friendly power to be delivered to our customers, reaffirming SDG&E’s ongoing commitment to secure regional renewable resources for the San Diego area,” said James Avery, senior vice president of power supply for the utility. “This renewable resource is precisely the type of project the Sunrise Powerlink was designed to support.”
Pattern Energy says the wind farm would create an operations and maintenance team with up to 20 permanent positions. It would also employ hundreds of construction workers in the Imperial Valley, an area the Great Recession has it particularly hard.
“Pattern is proud to help bring a premier wind farm to the Imperial Valley, creating a strong number of jobs, as well as a local source of clean and renewable energy for the future,” said Mike Garland, chief executive officer of Pattern.
Opponents have a list of concerns that go beyond what the turbines will do to the view.
Wildlife will be terribly affected, they say.
The area is a major wildlife corridor for peninsular bighorn sheep and birds, including golden eagles.
Pattern says the project would include an avian radar system to detect oncoming birds and automatically turn off turbines.
The company would also employ a biologist who would be stationed in a nearby tower to manually shut down turbines.
Jorgensen, in his letter to the BLM, scoffed at the precautions.
He said the radar system is a “ridiculous excuse” for monitoring bird movements in the region and says there is no way one biologist can monitor 13,000 acres.