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Greens fight power line from wind farm 

Credit:  By WILLIAM DOTINGA | Courthouse News Service | Monday, December 31, 2012 | www.courthousenews.com ~~

Environmentalists sued the Departments of Energy and the Interior, claiming a 230,000-volt transmission line from a proposed wind farm in Baja California will kill golden eagles and bighorn sheep.

The Protect Our Communities Foundation, Backcountry Against Dumps and landowner Donna Tisdale sued the Cabinet departments and their secretaries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and two other officials, in Federal Court.

The Department of Energy on Aug. 17, announced that it would issue a permit to Mexican-owned Energia Sierra Juarez (ESJ), allowing construction of 230-kilovolt transmission line straddling the U.S.-Mexico border in Eastern San Diego County. The line will link a wind farm in the Baja mountain town of La Rumorosa to facilities owned by San Diego Gas & Electric.

The view to the desert below La Rumorosa is one of the most stunning in the continent, according to Cook’s “South American Handbook.”

The plaintiffs say the 0.65-mile transmission line will require five 150-foot tall towers, a permanent 130-foot right-of-way easement, parking and access roads in the largely untouched desert. Construction will require drawing nearly 800,000 gallons of water from a groundwater well “in an area of acute water scarcity,” according to the complaint.

The massive wind farm itself – with some of its 431-foot tall turbines less than half a mile from U.S. soil – eventually is expected to generate 1,250 megawatts of electricity. ESJ applied to the Energy Department in 2007 for a presidential permit to build the transmission line.

Originally, Uncle Sam planned to conduct only a low-level environmental assessment under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), but public outcry forced a more stringent environmental impact statement.

The final report “identifies multiple unavoidable impacts to biological resources, visual resources, cultural resources, noise, public health and safety, fire management, water resources, transportation and traffic, land use and recreation,” the complaint states. “Yet in spite of this long list of impacts, DOE granted ESJ’s request for a presidential permit on Aug. 17, 2012, and issued Permit PP-334 on Aug. 31, 2012.”

The NEPA requires the defendants to specify a public need for the project and show that the need actually exists, according to the community groups.

“Here, the FEIS’s {final environmental impact statement} one-sentence statement of DOE’s purpose and needs reads: ‘The purpose and need for DOE’s action is to respond to the ESJ request for a presidential permit.’ The rest of the FEIS’s discussion of this topic presents only a generalized description of presidential permit procedures. This is wholly inadequate under NEPA. The FEIS’s recitation of ESJ’s private objectives for the project does nothing to cure this inadequacy. The FEIS does not even provide assurance that any energy will reach the U.S. DOE admits that ‘the degree of energy partitioning between [U.S. and Mexican] markets [for the energy produced by the ESJ wind project] is unknown at this time.’ Because DOE’s statement of purpose and need fails to specify any public need for the project let alone show that such a need actually exists and would be addressed, it violates NEPA,” according to the complaint. (Brackets, but not braces, in complaint.)

The groups also claim the DOE failed to adequately consider the range of alternatives listed in the environmental report.

“DOE’s purpose and need statement describes the reason for completing the EIS rather than the purpose of or need for the underlying project, and fails to address vital topics such as anticipated future energy needs, the extent of the region’s dependency on fossil fuels, and whether the project is needed to enable California’s utilities to meet portfolio standards. Therefore, despite the recommendations of numerous comments from the public, the alternatives consist only of ‘no action,’ potential routes and a single- or double-circuit option for the transmission line. This does not come close to representing the full range of alternative ways to meet future energy needs, reduce the region’s dependence on fossil fuels or meet California’s renewable portfolio standards,” the groups say.

In particular, the groups claim DOE failed to fully evaluate using the existing Western Energy Coordinating Council transmission line, and accuse the agency of parroting ESJ’s reasoning for not using it

“For example, the FEIS states that ‘according to the applicant, the WECC transmission corridor would not provide enough interconnection capability with the U.S. grid,’ and would not have the capacity to deliver the energy generated by the ESJ wind project without upgrades ‘that would require detailed studies and new international agreements that would likely delay delivery of power from the ESJ wind project.’ DOE is not permitted to uncritically accept, without any independent analysis, such self-serving assertions from permit applicants,” the groups say in the complaint.

They claim that the final approval is also flawed because it looks at only one substation, rather than the extensive list of upgrades required to link the wind farm to the U.S. electric grid.

Specifically, DOE’s approval neglects to mention a 13-mile transmission line and a powerlink project needed to expand the electrical transmission system, which is already at capacity, according to the plaintiffs.

The groups also accuse the DOE of failing to consider impacts of the wind farm itself, which will be built in Mexico.

“Wildlife, ecosystems, viewsheds, watersheds, airsheds and other natural features pay no heed to political boundaries. The effects of the project in Mexico are interconnected with and interdependent on the effects in the United States. NEPA, international law, existing case law and common sense all require that DOE consider all of the project’s potentially significant environmental effects, no matter which country they impact. Accordingly, DOE’s EIS must analyze the project’s environmental effects in Mexico as well as in the U.S. In addition, DOE must require or itself conduct a full EIS for the ESJ wind project’s effects in the U.S. and Mexico,” the complaint states.

In addition to harming bighorn sheep, golden eagles and the Quino checkerspot butterfly, the DOE failed to adopt mitigation measures for aerial firefighting in the region – a desolate area prone to wildfires, according to the complaint.

While the agency acknowledged that the transmission lines pose a threat to aircraft, its report “makes no mention of mitigation measures that would render transmission lines and towers more visible,” the plaintiffs say.

It is fairly clear from the 28-page complaint that the plaintiffs do not want the wind farm built at all.

“The federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act contains criminal and civil prohibitions against the taking of golden eagles,” the complaint states. “In Gonzales v. Raich, the U.S. Supreme Court cited the prohibition on the take of eagles in the Eagle Act, comparable to [Endangered Species Act]’s take provision, as an example of ‘a rational (and commonly utilized) means of regulating commerce.’ As alleged above, the FEIS recognizes that wind turbines kill birds and states that further study of eagles and their territories is necessary to determine whether the project will actually cause mortalities. Also as alleged above, the FEIS acknowledges that project activities in Mexico are reasonably certain to result in the take of golden eagles, including injury or death, adverse modification of habitat and direct disturbance. DOE’s approval of the project violates the Eagle Act, as species protected under this act will likely be taken as a result of DOE’s approval. DOE’s failure to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Fish and Wildlife Service providing for the protection of golden eagles is a violation of the Eagle Act.”

The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the permit violates NEPA, the Endangered Species, Migratory Bird Treaty and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Acts, want the DOE ordered to withdraw the permit until proper environmental studies are performed.

They also want the agency enjoined from allowing any more work on the project until proper environmental reviews are completed.

They are represented by Stephan Volker of Oakland.

Source:  By WILLIAM DOTINGA | Courthouse News Service | Monday, December 31, 2012 | www.courthousenews.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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