Community Controversy Over Proposed Energy Projects
GLORIA PENNER (Host): An Oregon-based company wants to build a wind farm in southeastern San Diego County. The location for the proposed farm is just north of Interstate-8 and the town of Boulevard - next to an existing wind farm in Campo. And, as KPBS Environment Reporter Ed Joyce tells us, people living in the rural area disagree whether the Tule Wind Project and other proposed energy projects are a good fit for the community.
ED JOYCE (KPBS Reporter): Southern California is an ideal place for generating renewable sources of energy. Ample sunshine, wide open spaces and wind, make solar and wind-generated power ideal sources of energy for the San Diego and Imperial County regions. This is part of a 1500-acre area in the McCain Valley in eastern San Diego County where Iberdrola Renewables would like to build a wind-farm project. Ed Clark with Iberdrola Renewables shows us where as many as 130 wind-turbines would be placed about three miles north of Interstate-8.
ED CLARK (Iberdrola Renewables): The very first turbines would be on this ridge we see right over here to the west. And they’ll go north up that ridge from there. And then further to the north and to the west there are additional similar ridges and those also will have strings of turbines on them.
JOYCE: Clark says the turbines would stretch up to 400 feet from base to blade top. The proposal also includes access roads and a 138-kilovolt transmission line.
CLARK: What we’ll do is concentrate the turbines really to the most part on the west side of the road. And so, it will limit that impact visually in the desert to really that side of the road primarily and then just this corner of the valley. So we’re doing what we can to minimize that visual impact.
JOYCE: Clark says the proposed project would generate enough power for 60,000 San Diego-area homes and provide 10 permanent jobs. He says the Tule Wind Project would need to tie into a new substation proposed by San Diego Gas & Electric.
CLARK: So, there would be no reason to build this project before what they call “Eco-substation” East County sub-station is completed. It’s down near Jacumba.
JOYCE: SDG&E’s proposed eco-substation along with the Tule Wind Proposal and another wind project just across the border in Mexico are now undergoing environmental review. Together, the projects require three new transmission lines. David Hogan with The Protect Our Communities Foundation says putting solar panels on homes and parking garages throughout San Diego County could provide the same energy.
DAVID HOGAN (The Protect Our Communities Foundation): Yea, I mean there’s dozens of guns pointed at the head of the eastern San Diego rural landscape that we’re visiting today. There’s transmission line proposals. There’s wind energy development proposals. There’s new power plant proposals. Every one of these companies wants to get a piece of eastern San Diego, and it has nothing to do with making sure people have enough electricity. It has nothing to do with renewable energy. Those are just ways for the companies to justify their bottom line, which is profit for their shareholders.
JOYCE: Donna Tisdale is a member of the Boulevard Planning Group and lives on a 210-acre ranch with her husband. She’s concerned the Tule Wind Project will negatively impact her community.
DONNA TISDALE (Boulvard Planning Group): It’s just such an assault on the scenery. The sense of place. It’s going to change the rural atmosphere, the community character. It’s for other people. It’s not going to benefit us. It’s for other people. It also represents a significant threat of wildfire.
JOYCE: Tisdale says if all the proposed energy projects are approved, the area will be forever changed.
TISDALE: There's about 5,000 megawatts of wind energy proposed south of the border here, that's like a mile from us. So virtually in every direction that we will look there will be industrial turbines and transmission lines…so that’s…that’s not… We make sacrifices to live here for godsake. It's beautiful and quiet and peaceful. Why would we want to live in the middle of an industrial zone?
JOYCE: Larry Smith lives in Live Oak Springs - within view of the existing wind farm in Campo.
LARRY SMITH: I will say it, I've said it before, that where my property's located, where the windmills are now, it's taken awhile for me to get used to them. I don't really like the visual aspects of it myself. However, that being said, if this is going to make "electricity cheaper, easier, more affordable for everybody up here everywhere around, I can live with it.
BOB WALKER: Bob Walker. I live in Boulevard and I work in Boulevard. Yeah, the visual aspect is something that concerns me. But I've thought long and hard about this and you know, we're going to have to bite the bullet. In this economy we've got right now we need more jobs and we definitely need them out in Boulevard too. And if that will bring some new jobs, there's a lot of people out of work right now.
JOYCE: The public comment phase of the approval process is now underway for the Tule Wind Project, which needs federal, state and county approval before the project could break ground.
Ed Clark with Iberdrola Renewables says he expects San Diego County to hold hearings this Spring on the company's application for a major use permit.