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Tribes Fight Green Energy Wind Project In Desert

With the new leasing rules, Native Americans hope to develop renewable energy projects like this wind farm in the Mexican state of Baja California.
Roberto (Bear) Guerra
With the new leasing rules, Native Americans hope to develop renewable energy projects like this wind farm in the Mexican state of Baja California.
Ocotillo Wind Project
Ocotillo Wind Project

Several Native American tribes in the Southwest are fighting a large wind farm planned near the town of Ocotillo, in Imperial County, CA. The tribes say there are more than 400 archeological sites on the land where the turbines would be located.

The Ocotillo Wind Express Energy Project, proposed by Pattern Energy, would produce up to 356 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power more than 130,000 households.

Ocotillo wind is one of the largest renewable energy projects planned on public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It's one of 19 priority projects designated in 2011 by the bureau.


The Cocopah, Quechan and several Kumeyaay tribes say the project would desecrate a vast swath of land that’s part of their traditional cultural landscape. Ancient ceremonial sites, geoglyphs and other remnants of the tribes’ history are scattered across the 12,500 acres where the turbines will be placed, they say.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story reported that Kumeyaay tribes opposed the project. The Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians has expressed support for the project.

At a recent symposium on renewable energy in San Diego, Anthony Pico, chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, said federal and county officials haven’t engaged the tribes in meaningful consultation about the project — against federal and state law.

“Without listening to us, without recording what we have to say, without putting those in the environmental impact study, the archeological study, they’re not understanding where we’re coming from,” Pico said.

The chairman said Ocotillo wind's designation as a BLM priority project has led to a "fast track" process that has restricted public participation and consultation with affected parties.


Nevertheless, the tribal leader said most Indian tribes in Southern California support renewable energy.

“It’s a great thing in our fight against fossil fuels that’s making our Mother Earth very ill,” Pico said. “But we are against any kind of industrial project that does not take into consideration our cultural resources.”

In January, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a 20-year power purchase agreement between Pattern Energy and San Diego Gas & Electric for 315 megawatts of wind energy from the Ocotillo project. The company plans to connect to the controversial Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, which still under construction.

BLM released the final environmental impact statement for the wind farm on March 9. The agency is scheduled to make a final decision on whether the project will go forward in the coming months.

After that, Imperial County must issue a conditional use permit before the company can begin work.

Pico said the tribes still hoped to convince federal officials to halt the project.