OCOTILLO – Although the Ocotillo Wind Express wind turbine project is still under construction, the blades of many of the turbines in place are already spinning, producing energy for San Diego, despite some efforts to stop it.
And though it may have been announced earlier this week, what has been one of the most discussed and perhaps imposing renewable energy projects the county has, actually came online in late December after some seven months of construction.
It’s unclear how many houses are being served or how many megawatts are being transported as it is.
However, the project’s completion is expected in the spring, according to the developer, Pattern Energy, which has invested about $530 millions and years of planning. Moreover, completion means that turbines will populate a patch of project area south of Interstate 8 in the next few months.
As of Friday, 18 turbines are yet to be built and once the 112 turbines are up and running, Ocotillo Wind Express will be capable of generating some 265 megawatts, a figure opponents dispute.
While the project’s completion nears, the opposition comprised mainly of environmentalists, some Ocotillo residents, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians and the Quechan Tribe, may be running the last lap of their legal battles. Two lawsuits remain of the various legal attempts to stop the project.
“We have a little renewed hope because it’s (lawsuit) in front of a different judge,” said Terry Weiner, Imperial County projects coordinator for the Desert Protective Council, referring to the lawsuit this organization has against the project.
This lawsuit was filed in September and is due in a San Diego federal court Feb. 22, Weiner said. Even when a previous judge didn’t rule in the organization’s favor, he left an opening to continue the argument on the impact the project allegedly has on raptors.
If this lawsuit continuation is unsuccessful, “that’s it for us, unless our attorney decides to appeal the case,” said Weiner, who acknowledged “it’s a bit late to save the ground.”
However, they are continuing the legal battle to establish a precedent. “If they (developers) see the kind of response and trouble that (they) have to go through, they might decide against putting another.”
Pattern, it should be noted, has said in the past that they don’t expect to place another wind project in the county.
The Quechan Tribe heads the other legal challenge, said Bob Scheid, spokesman for Viejas, who noted the suit will be heard in San Diego on Jan. 18.
He added, “From the tribal perspective, the start of the transmission of energy of this project is just another sad milestone along the way.”
Meanwhile, “the feeling on the (Quechan Cultural) Committee is that there’s been some grave mistakes that took place from the very beginning and we still feel that way,” said Lorey Cachora, Quechan Cultural Committee consultant.
He alleged that there was never any agreement to any discussion with the Bureau of Land Management and Pattern in regard to the human remains found in the area.
These groups oppose the project over biological, aesthetical and cultural resources, like Native American burial and cremation sites located in the area. Tribes also sustain that mitigation efforts are insufficient.
A community divided
But there are also those who support the project, like Imperial County Supervisor Michael Kelley, who praised the transmission of energy, in a press release. “Pattern’s Ocotillo Wind (Express) facility is creating a tremendous economic impact on the Imperial Valley,” Kelley said.
Deputy County Executive Officer Andy Horne agreed with Kelley and said that the project brings millions in property taxes, “that is money that goes to support local services and schools.”
The project will bring about $442 million in revenue to the county over the 30-year life of the project,” according to an independent report.
Meanwhile, the discussion on whether the turbines are beneficial or detrimental continues in this now-divided community of some 300 people. On one side there are those like resident Gerald Wallace, 62, who on Friday morning was having a cigarette near Interstate 8.
“I have no animosity towards them whatsoever,” said Wallace, who was wearing a baseball cap with an Ocotillo Wind logo on it. “To me its progress … it’s good for business,” he said.
On the other side, there are those who are against the project, like a female resident who was walking her dog just blocks away from where Wallace was sitting.
The resident didn’t want to give her name, as she feared retaliation from those who support the project, she said.
Threats of retaliation do go both ways, she acknowledged and added that because of the project, “people are being aggressive towards each other.”
The resident also said that the local opposition isn’t discouraged in their fight against the project.
“(We’ll) either die or move from here,” she said while noting that the Community Advocates For Renewable Energy Stewardship, a group of Ocotillo residents who organized to fight the project, “have something really big in the works (legally speaking).”
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