In about a month, construction begins on the much-disputed and much-delayed Tule Wind Project in San Diego’s East County.
“It has definitely crossed my mind whether or not this was going to happen,” said Harley McDonald, senior business developer for Avangrid Renewables, the company in charge of the project. “There’s certainly been some bumps in the road.”
After a dozen years of debate and wrangling over permitting, 57 General Electric turbines are slated to get erected along the site that sprawls over 12,000 acres. And more are planned to come if a second phase of the project gets the OK.
“This is still the wrong project in the wrong place,” said April Rose Sommer, executive director of the Protect our Communities Foundation (POC) that has long opposed to the project.
However, POC last month lost its request for the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals to hold an en banc hearing in POC’s hopes the appeals court would reverse a ruling in June by three judges that gave the Tule project’s developers a right-of-way for the wind farm.
An en banc hearing would have resulted in a larger number of judges in the Ninth Circuit hearing the case.
“It’s very disappointing,” Sommer said. “I find it hard to justify on legal grounds.” POC is considering its next move, even if it means taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sommer said.
Avangrid is going forward with the project and on a typically broiling day in the back country, supporters on Wednesday held a ground-breaking ceremony.
“Green energy needs to support the entirety of San Diego County,” said John Gibson, an El Cajon resident who worked with the Hamman Companies and the nonprofit Waterstone Foundation in launching the Tule project. “So the only place you can put wind is where the wind blows and we’ve done that in the least populated place in the county.”
Five of the turbines will be built on parcels owned by Waterstone and the other 52 will go up on property controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
With each turbine expected to generate 2.3 megawatts, the project at its full capacity is estimated to generate enough electricity to power 40,000 homes while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the equivalent of taking 50,000 cars off the road.
Southern California Edison last year signed a 15-year power purchase agreement for the project and the turbines will be connected to a substation operated by San Diego Gas & Electric.
Avangrid officials say construction should start within weeks – by the end of September or early October, with the project going online in one year.
The turbines’ towers are 262 feet high, each with a diameter of 351 feet.
POC asserts that many birds – especially migratory birds such as golden eagles – would get killed in collisions with Tule’s turbines and blades.
“There’s not a whole lot of areas in the country where you have multiple pairs of breeding eagles and that occurs in the McCain Valley,” said Sommer.
Avangrid officials insist the Tule Project is safe for birds.
“We did an exhaustive environmental process,” McDonald said. “We’ve been out here for years and are still doing studies right now where we’re evaluating what impacts there may be to wildlife and it is so low we felt it was a non-issue.”
A second phase of the project – called Tule II – is slated to generate 69 megawatts of power but still needs to go through the approval process, including at least one hearing by the State Lands Commission.
If approved, Tule II would be placed on reservation land belonging to the Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians.
“It’s very windy” on the reservation, said Michael Garcia, vice chairman of the Ewiiaapaayp Band. “It’s easy resource to recoup. So we just see a good opportunity there.”
Construction of Tule II would begin only after Tule I is completed, Avangrid officials said, and would take about a year to complete.
POC has filed for summary judgment in federal district court in the Southern District of California, trying to block the Tule II project, arguing the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not conduct an environmental review and citing a 2014 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service letter that said the project posed a high risk to eagles.
Based in Oregon, Avangrid Renewables is part of the Iberdrola Group, a renewable energy multinational with headquarters in Spain.
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