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San Diego Gas & Electric wind projects draw national notice

A pair of stories in the last week detailed conflicts between San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) and national environmental groups over two separate wind projects. One of the conflicts appears to have been resolved amicably, while the other is headed to the courtroom. And each story involves the power of flight.

The amicable ending involved the Montana chapter of the National Audubon Society, which viewed with some alarm plans to build wind turbines on the Kevin Rim, an important area for birds of prey. San Francisco wind developer NaturEner is erecting the Rim Rock Wind Farm’s turbines for eventual power sales to SDG&E.

Audubon members determined that 27 of the planned turbines were sited too close to ferruginous hawk nests for the group’s liking. A phone call to SDG&E eventually resulted in the developer meeting with Montana Audubon, and crafting a Memorandum of Understanding to move all but two of the turbines farther from the raptor nests. Did SDG&E tell its developer to work things out? Audubon isn’t saying, but it seems likely.

Meanwhile, the national environmental aviation group Project Lighthawk, which donates flight time to green groups who want to document landscape-level issues from the air, announced in its August 2012 newsletter that it had donated a flight to the San Diego-based Desert Protective Council (DPC) to capture aerial photos of the Ocotillo Express Wind Energy Project construction site.

The Ocotillo Express project would cover 12,400 acres in southwestern Imperial County adjacent to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Its 112 turbines would generate up to 315 megawatts of power for sale to SDG&E.

The DPC – for whom, by way of full disclosure, I worked from 2009-2011 – sued the Interior Department, Imperial County, and Ocotillo Wind’s developer Pattern Energy in May 2012 over alleged violations of the Federal Lands Policy Management Act (FLPMA) when the project was approved. Project Lighthawk took to the air to help DPC document the scale of the construction project, as well as some alleged violations of the project’s Environmental Impact Statement – including dirt roads that DPC says have been widened far more than the 36 feet Pattern Energy is allowed, a contention that the Project Lighthawk photoswould seem to support.

The photos will be presented to the judge presiding over the case, which is one of three lawsuits now filed against the project.