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The Tule Wind Project, those for and against the project.

August 9, 2012 1:05 p.m.


Harley McDonald, Iberdrola Renewables' California developer, Tule Wind Project

Donna Tisdale, Chair Boulevard Planning Group

Related Story: Tule Wind Project Gets Green Light


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Thursday, August 9th. On a 3-2 vote yesterday, San Diego County supervisors approved the Tule wind project. It is only part of the 700-acre proposed wind farm. This area is one of the best remaining sources of wind energy in California. But as opponents point out, it is also one of the remaining undeveloped areas of San Diego's backcountry. My guest, Harley McDonald is here, a spokes person for the Tule wind project developer, Iberdrola renewables. Welcome to the program.

MCDONALD: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Donna Tisdale is here, chair of the boulevard planning group, and an opponent of the Tule wind power project. Welcome.

TISDALE: Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Harley, this vote clears wait for several other final approvals that you need before you can begin this project. Tell us what part of this project will be on San Diego County land.

MCDONALD: The Tule wind project is 200 megawatts, and we are located on BLM, state, tribal, and county land. On county land we have five turbine, a substation, temporary laydown yard, a few access road, and our transmission line.

CAVANAUGH: How big are the turbines, and how many of them? Five?

MCDONALD: On county.

CAVANAUGH: How many in total?

MCDONALD: In total we are asking to be permitted for 92.

MCDONALD: And 62 will be on BLM, 5 on county.

CAVANAUGH: And give us an idea of what the turbines look like. How big are they?

MCDONALD: The county's major use permit specifies that the turbines are 420 feet tall, and that is from the ground to the blade at the 12:00 position.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. How will this energy be transmitted to residents?

MCDONALD: It will go from the turbines to the project substation, down 5 miles of a transmission line to a substation owned by SDG&E, to the new ecosubstation which is also in the process of being permitted, and we are grandfathered in on the southwest power line. Most people assume we're on sunrise, but we're actually on the southwest power link. Then it will come into the San Diego region.

CAVANAUGH: Are you going to be building new big overhead transmission lines? Is that the idea?

MCDONALD: Well, we asked the county and the BLM for overhead transmission lines specifically we wanted to avoid cultural resources. We know that there are several that are located in the translation line corridor, and if we have to go underground, we can't avoid the resources. And we are very sensitive to tribal concerns. The other reason is that we designed our overhead transmission line poles to colocate energy for any future projects. So we are capable of carrying multiple circuits. If other projects come online you won't have other transmission lines traversing the area.

CAVANAUGH: And how much energy will this provide to San Diego?

MCDONALD: If we build it to full capacity, tell be 200 megawatts, which would power 60,000 homes.

CAVANAUGH: Donna, you have been an opponent of this power project. You spoke in opposition at the board meeting yesterday. What are your main concerns?

TISDALE: No. 1, this project is not needed, and neither will the sunrise power link. The energy that's proposed to be developed out in the backcountry could be generated here in San Diego. There are multiple report, even a new one that said -- in fact California can do the majority of their renewable energy on existing structures and over parking lots, combined power, that kind of stuff.

CAVANAUGH: You're talking about solar?

TISDALE: Solar, combined heat and power, all kinds of alternatives.

CAVANAUGH: And your concerns specifically about this project though?

TISDALE: When they did a special -- BLM, an unlawful downgrade of our area from protected high visual, high resource value to industrial grade, this is a regional park. McCain valley national cooperative land and wildfire management area, which is zoned industrial for this project. They're getting special privileges. So now our entrance into our regional park is now lined by the sunrise power link, tell be lined by Tule's overhead transmission line, and close to 500-foot turbines lining the road all the way out to Lark Canyon, the camp ground, cotton wood camp ground, trail, access to several wilderness areas, and it abuts homes. There are homes in the area.

CAVANAUGH: Now I know that Diane Jacob was one of the people who did not vote for this project. One one of her concerns is the idea that this might be another fire hazard in that area. Do you share that concern?

TISDALE: Well, yes, and they have had three or four fires at three of their different wind projects, turbine fires, since May. And they're not alone. There was one in whitewater, Palm Springs area last year. A recent one in that hatcha pee. They claim it's not going to go, they have fire suppression, but all it takes is one during a Santa Ana event. So the reason that the county did the general plan update and they approved our area as remaining rural was to avoid building in fireprone area, to avoid having to have additional infrastructure, and the expenses that go with it. We have volunteer fire departments out there.

CAVANAUGH: Harley, what have you done if anything to mitigate the fire hazard of the turbines and the transmission lines?

MCDONALD: I am so glad you asked. I think that is one of our best stories that we have on Tule wind. When we first started this project, we reached out to the San Diego County fire authority, and CAL FIRE and BLM fire, and said what are your questions, what are your concerns? Here's what a wind farm means. Here's how we operate it. How can we mitigate your concerns? We spent over 18 months meeting with them and talked about what we could do to make them feel better. In the end, we came up with what we think is probably the most robust fire protection plan in the entire United States. We are doing things that are unprecedented at any other wind farm. We're installing arc flash sensors in all the turbines. We are doing fire suppression systems in every nacelle, fuel management to the base of every turbine, we've widened our access roads to make sure the fire trucks can access every turbine. All of the turbines are monitored 24/7. We're installing 4 1,000 water tank, all with open tops. We are funding 1 full-time fire specialist, and 4 part-time code inspectors for the life of the project. We have a fire service agreement, fire protection plan, and a fire construction plan, but most importantly, if you don't take my word for it, yesterday rural fire and county fire spoke at the hearing and both said this is a state of the art wind farm. And we feel comfortable with it.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you about something that the San Diego commission wanted you guys to do. They asked that you actually do run these lines underground. And I think everybody here in San Diego County who remembers the terrible wildfires we had a few years ago recognizes the fact that transmission lines played a part in that. And I heard your answer before, but I'm not quite getting whys that you wouldn't be running these lines underground.

MCDONALD: Well, it's a balance of the least environmental impact. If we go underground, we know that there's going to be additional blasting from the rock to actually make the trenches, which means more noise, dust suppression during construction. You can't colocate lines underground with other projects. So if they come online, they're going to have to do the same. We know that there are archaeological sites. We want to avoid those.

CAVANAUGH: In the Indian lands?

MCDONALD: Yes. No, even on county land.


MCDONALD: If we went overhead, the visual impacts are I think somewhat mitigated by the fact that sunrise is already in existence. And we designed our line to go right next to sunrise. And we are designing the lines to be aplet complaint, which is the standard creating spacing with the wires further apart so they are the least hazard to birds and electcution.

CAVANAUGH: Is it more expensive to go underground?

MCDONALD: Absolutely, no question.

CAVANAUGH: I thought that might have something to do with it. Donna, you expressed concerns during a number of concerns in your presentation yesterday. And I believe one of them is about the health effects of those living in the area of these turbine, and the overhead power lines. What are some of those health concerns that you know about and you don't want to happen to you or the people in the area?

TISDALE: We're the only community in San Diego County that has existing wind turbine, and they're installed on the campo reservation. They belong to a company out of Australia, managed by a company out of Texas. And they had a catastrophic failure in 2009. We still don't have an explanation for that. And what we found there, we've got members, community members, tribal members, nontribal members, that live within a 3-mile radius are experiencing adverse health effects, and we are linking it back to low frequency noise, vibrations, and even electrical pollution that is generated by these facilities. And quite often they ground stray voltage into the ground, and it migrates into people's homes. It's in the air, it's in the ground, we have had the electrical pollution documented around the turbines. And we're working on documenting the noise.

CAVANAUGH: There have been concerns about issues like this on other wind farms around the country, people who say they're sleep deprived, that they have migraine, that there's this low frequency noise all the time. You have heard about these health concerns about, right, Harley? Have they been adequately --

TISDALE: Could I add to mine? Before she jumps in, the tribal members are right now going through an environmental health impact assessment through the university of cal state San Marcos. And we asked, and they asked that the county decision makers at least wait until that impact study is done. And there's several others being done around the country, around the globe. Before you approve more turbines next to people, wait and see because the experts that are reviewing these projects are recommending a minimum of 1 and 1 quarter mile distance.

CAVANAUGH: Your response?

MCDONALD: Health studies have been done for several years. And we can only go on scientifically proven peer reviewed evidence. And the studies that are coming out are all saying that -- they conclude that wind power is safe to humans. And the county of San Diego yesterday said that they reviewed the scientific studies and concluded that it was a speculative issue.

CAVANAUGH: Speculative issue.

TISDALE: Can I respond?

CAVANAUGH: Yes, but we have to move along. We have another of these issues I want to get to. Go ahead.

TISDALE: Her statement is wrong. And I believe the county statement is wrong. In fact I think that doctor Wooten's public health statements saying no adverse public impact was shameful and potentially based on criminally suppressed information. Iberdrola has complaints, potential lawsuits, problems in existing project where is they use the same noise model they're using here. They're not in compliance, and they know that. And they don't tell that information. And what we have is county bureaucrats elected by their representatives to come out with a certain point. They manipulate the data to come to that point and eliminate all the other data. We're looking at our options and challenge these decisions.

CAVANAUGH: You are here to speak and say she's thing, and you don't have to ask my permission to do so. But let me ask you a question. State law requires the county to have 20% renewable network by 2020. Isn't this wind farm just a fact of life that we have to accept now in order to keep the lights on?

TISDALE: It's a matter of choices and better alternatives, and wind energy is intermittent. You can rely on maybe 30%. Of there's days when it represents zero. So you have to have backup balancing load to counteract that intermittency when it's not there. And it's better to have solar power or combined heat and power, alternatives in the city, where it's right there where you need it, rather than relying on something remotely that has a long transmission line that's subject to fire or earthquakes or anything like that.

CAVANAUGH: One of the selling points of this project is the boost to the economy that you project. Tell us about that.

MCDONALD: Well, we expect to provide $30 million in sales and use tax during construction. Over $100 million in property tax over the life of the project. Around $1 million per year in landowner revenue. And we will be offsetting up to 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, which following the county's climate action policies. And then also we -- Iberdrola, our general business model is not to develop a project and sell it. We typically keep our projects for the life. Not always, but generally for 30 years. So we have made a number of donations to the community in the backcountry, to the school system, to the health clinics, to the campgrounds, and in our agreements we specifically state that they're allowed to oppose Tule wind. So we're certainly not buying their support.

CAVANAUGH: We are almost out of time. I have to ask you both one last question, and that is what's next? What's next, Harley in this process? How close are you to actually starting to develop this project?

MCDONALD: We have the major use permit as of yesterday. We still need to get the building permits. We will be working on the state land's commission, and the tribal permits as well. But the key is we cannot come online until the ecosubstation is built, which is expected the first quarter of 2014. So it doesn't make sense to construct the project and have it sit there.

TISDALE: You need a purchase agreement too, which you don't have.

CAVANAUGH: Donna, what is your next step in this? Are you going to be filing suit or petitioning?

TISDALE: Well, yes, and they're talking about -- they're going to be eligible for 30% cash grant of the price of this project, and a sales and use tax exemption. There's all kinds of incentives, and taxpayer-funded money that they're going to get that they don't like to discuss. We've asked the amounts and numbers of project, they never will tell you. That's paid for by ratepayers and taxpayers. We've got a Spanish utility that's making all this money. $1.5 billion in stimulus funds so far.

CAVANAUGH: Are you taking this to court?

TISDALE: As soon as I can.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right then. Thank you both very much, very much.

TISDALE: Thank you

MCDONALD: Thank you.