Tule Wind Project Gets Federal Approval
Project Needs Additional Approvals Before Construction
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Aired 12/20/11 on KPBS News.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar Tuesday approved a wind project in southeastern San Diego County.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar Tuesday approved the Tule Wind Project in southeastern San Diego County, located 70 miles east of San Diego.
Pacific Wind - Tule Wind Project Map
The project will produce 186 megawatts of electricity, using 62 wind turbines sited on public lands. That's enough to power up to 65,000 homes.
The developer, Iberdrola Renewables, intends to increase that to 200 megawatts pending county and state approvals.
The Interior Department approval of Tule Wind is the first of several needed since the project is located within four jurisdictions. It still needs additional approvals from the California Public Utilities Commission, Bureau of Indian Affairs, California State Lands Commission and County of San Diego.
The project is expected to create 337 jobs during construction.
In a news release, Iberdrola Renewables called the approval of the portion of the project on federal lands a key step in the Tule Wind project.
"We applaud the effort by the Department of the Interior, which worked closely with the State of California to effectively execute the environmental review process for Tule Wind and other priority projects to bring jobs and revenue to these communities," said Harley McDonald, business developer for Iberdrola Renewables, in the release.
The Tule Wind Power Project, an up to 200 MW wind energy facility, is proposed for the McCain Valley in Eastern San Diego County. The federal lands portion of the project approved by the Department of Interior Tuesday will generate up to 186 MW.
"The County of San Diego will be holding hearings on our Major Use Permit application in the first quarter of 2012," said McDonald. "The Planning Commission, then likely the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, will be voting on whether this project will be allowed to proceed.”
Opponents of the project, including the Protect Our Communities Foundation, have said the Tule Wind project is one of many energy projects proposed for the McCain Valley which will ruin the rural character of the area.
Some environmental activists question whether private companies should be allowed to use public land for energy projects.
Donna Tisdale lives in Boulevard and is a member of the Protect Our Communities Foundation.
"We were expecting the decision because of the mindset and the kind of blind push for wind energy on public lands," said Tisdale.
Tisdale said there is also concern about adverse health effects related to low-frequency noise from the wind turbines and how the project would affect property values and wildlife.
The company said the Tule Wind Power Project, as proposed, will produce enough clean energy for approximately 60,000 San Diego-area homes, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 230,000 tons and reduce water use by 149 million gallons per year by displacing gas-fired generation.
"More than five years of environmental studies have found that Tule Wind will have very low impact to cultural, wildlife and natural resources," said McDonald.
In its Record of Decision, the Department of the Interior selected an alternative that reduced the number of turbines on public lands from 128 turbines to 62 turbines - in order to avoid biological, cultural and hydrological resources.
"We've been working closely with the Fish & Wildlife Service on science-based solutions to avoid impact to all avian species - in particular, golden eagles," said Stu S. Webster, director of Permitting & Environmental for Iberdrola Renewables. "All the federal agencies involved in this effort recognize the need to minimize the project's environmental impacts, and realize the broader benefits of wind energy, creating jobs and meeting renewable energy goals," said Webster.
Iberdrola Renewables conducted several years of avian point counts, conducted telemetry studies on golden eagles and nesting surveys in compliance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Game - and only two golden eagle observations were made during two years of avian use surveys at the project site, explained Webster.
"The studies indicated low use of the site by golden eagles, telling us that collision with a Tule Wind turbine is unlikely," said Webster. "However to err on the side of caution and prove that our science-based deductions are accurate, we have commissioned to continue another year of studies on the northern ridge through the Wildlife Research Institute, which has been studying eagle activity in San Diego County for 23 years. It is expected that these additional studies will confirm little-to-no use by the eagles of the valley portion of the project area and further characterize eagle use near the northern ridge and confirm that there is very low risk to these eagles."
Iberdrola says the Tule Wind project will support about 915 jobs in San Diego County during construction and bring roughly $3.5 million to the county's economy. After construction the on-site operation will provide only 10-12 permanent jobs.