Plans for the largest wind farm to date in the southern reaches of California took a step forward on Thursday with the approval of a power purchase agreement between San Diego Gas & Electric and a major wind power developer.
The wind turbines on Bureau of Land Management property outside the desert town of Ocotillo will provide enough electricity to power roughly 140,000 homes.
The power plant, known as Ocotillo Express, would supply electricity to utility customers in San Diego via the Sunrise Powerlink, a $1.9 billion transmission line scheduled for completion this summer.
Terms of the 20-year power purchase agreement between SDG&E and Pattern Energy will not be made public until at least three years after electricity production begins, under regulations intended to encourage a competitive market.
The energy pact would count toward aggressive state requirements for increasing the share iof electricity generated from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal power plants. Investor-owned utilities and other retailers must procure 33 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.
Pattern Energy, the developer, hopes to complete a portion of construction in time to qualify for federal Production Tax Credits for wind energy that are set to expire at the end of the year.
Pattern Energy CEO Mike Garland said the tax credits do not affect the viability of the full project. Pattern is still awaiting environmental and right-of-way approvals from the Bureau of Land Management as well as authorization from Imperial County.
“We’re hoping to put as much of it online in 2012 as we can,” Garland said.
Turbines at the site will measure about 250 feet from the ground to the blade hub and will be lighted at night to alert low-flying aircraft.
Robert Sheid, a spokesman for the Viejas tribe, said several Native American communities have voiced concerns about impacts on cultural sites, the natural environment and the area’s visual landscape.
“This has not been approved by the Interior (Department) and yet it looks like everything is moving forward at breakneck speed over the concerns not only of the Viejas tribe, but also other tribes,” he said.
Garland said he and other Pattern Energy official have gone to great lengths to address tribal concerns even though no reservation lands border the site. Mitigation measures include a radar system designed to detect approaching birds, and keeping turbines clear of one ceremonial site and its view of the mountains.
“Our belief is that the majority of the Native Americans in the area are neutral or positive” on the project, he said.