A federal judge has dismissed a pair of legal challenges to a wind farm outside the small desert town of Ocotillo.
A lawsuit spearheaded by the Desert Protective Council challenged a 10,000 acre right of way for the wind plant granted by the Bureau of Land Management and related amendments made to the California Desert Conservation Area.
A second lawsuit by the Quechan tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation, which traces its ancestry to the wind project area, criticized archaeological surveys and said the tribe was not adequately consulted – claims rejected by Judge Gonzalo Curiel of the U.S. District Court for Southern California.
“The BLM’s decision to grant the right of way … was reasonable as it considered all relevant factors and provided an analysis that presented a rational connection between the facts found and the conclusions it made based on relevant law,” he wrote.
Developed by Pattern Energy, the array of 94 turbines, with another 18 to come this spring, forms a crescent around Ocotillo, on the western edge of the Imperial Valley.
In December, the Ocotillo Wind plant became the first renewable energy project to tie into the newly built Sunrise Powerlink, a 117-mile transmission line leading from San Diego into the Imperial Valley desert. The power flows to customers of San Diego Gas & Electric under a contract whose terms have not been disclosed.
Mike Garland, CEO of Pattern Energy, praised the judge’s decisions on Friday.
“These rulings confirmed that we and the BLM followed the rules, working with Native American tribes, community groups and local residents during the development process,” he said in a statement.
The wind project has been embraced by many for its economic impact and clean energy benefits – and pilloried for interrupting Ocotillo’s desert vistas, wildlife habitats and sense of peace and quiet. The town has fewer than 300 year-around residents.
Terry Weiner, Imperial Valley coordinator for the Desert Protective Council, said her organization was weighing an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals out of concern for the California Desert Conservation Area. The area, created in 1980, spans 12 million acres of public land.
“To decide that the biological and natural resources that were protected under this plan suddenly don’t deserve protecting because we want to get renewable energy,” she said, “is really egregious and wrong.”
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