East County Group Sues To Stop Wind Project On Campo Indian Reservation
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / May 3, 2021
One of the largest renewable energy projects to be proposed in San Diego County is snared in a second lawsuit alleging environmental violations.
Speaker 1: 00:00 A wind project on the Campo Indian reservation that would provide clean energy to 70,000 homes is in jeopardy after neighbors sued to stop it. Joining me to talk about what's happening is I knew source reporter can me Vaughn canal Comey. Welcome. Thank you. This is a project that would install 60 wind turbines on the reservation near Boulevard, which is about 70 miles East of downtown San Diego and close to the U S Mexico border. What does the developer say? The environmental impact of this project?
Speaker 2: 00:34 So the developer, which is a company called Terra, Jen is focused on the climate impact of this renewable energy project. They say that, um, the wind turbines would create enough energy to displace approximately 58,000 metric, tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year. And that's about the equivalent of taking 12,600 cars off the road each year, which is quite significant
Speaker 1: 00:59 The County and the developer would not comment for this story, but what can you tell us about the environmental impacts that were considered in the county's approval of the project back in March?
Speaker 2: 01:09 Yeah, obviously as part of these approvals, the developer has to pay for an environmental review of, of local impacts. Um, some of those impacts that were brought forth in the, in that review that the County, um, and, and the federal government, um, taken to consideration when they were looking at these projects are, um, impacts on noise on sort of the visual landscape in the area. Um, those are sort of the more human impacts, um, their impacts on the environment as well. This project would use a lot of water, um, as part of the construction. Um, it might impact, uh, birds like Eagles, um, and would kind of disturb some of the local vegetation as there would be roads, uh, created access roads created. But what the supervisors decided was that this project was, was worth it. Um, chairman Nathan Fletcher said that it warms his heart to move forward with the project because it'll help achieve a hundred percent renewable energy. And it has a Libra agreement and has tribal support. And the vote was unanimous at the board of supervisors in support of the project.
Speaker 1: 02:14 And is the project developer partnering with the Campo Kumiai nation on this project? I mean, how would it benefit them?
Speaker 2: 02:21 Yeah, that's right. So the [inaudible] nation voted to approve a lease with the developer back in April of 2018, the lease would be for 20, at least 25 years. Um, the lease has not been publicly released, but the developer has talked about tens of millions of dollars going to the tribe, um, which is one of the more isolated tribal governments in our region, um, and wants to use this money to fund, uh, local priorities like healthcare, housing, education, internet access, um, they've already received some money. According to court records, they've already received over $1 million, um, uh, 15 education scholarships and, uh, 14 jobs. Although we don't have that many additional details on that,
Speaker 1: 03:11 But you know, not everyone supports the plan. So tell me about who's opposed and why that is.
Speaker 2: 03:16 Yeah. So there is vocal opposition, including from this neighbor called Donna Tisdale. She's a frequent player and lawsuits against, uh, projects in the back country. And she happens to live on a ranch that shares a half mile boundary with the reservation and the, and the wind project. So here she is.
Speaker 3: 03:37 I wish that when people talk about wind turbines and solar projects, that they stop and consider where they are proposed and how that will impact that community at ground zero
Speaker 2: 03:50 She's, you know, among, among her concerns are just that the winter binds would just further industrialize this area kind of disturbed the quiet and serenity that's brought her there. Um, the noise and the lights would disturb her sleep, maybe affect her health. So those are among her concerns and she's joined by a bigger group. She's part of this group called back country against dumps. Um, and there are also some residents of the reservation that are also opposed for similar concerns.
Speaker 1: 04:19 And this is the second lawsuit against this project. Why else are they being sued?
Speaker 2: 04:24 Right. So the jurisdiction is a little bit tricky since the wind turbines are on the Campo Indian reservation, the Bureau of Indian affairs had to approve the lease. Um, so Donna Tisdale's group that, that, uh, that group of opponents has already sued the federal government, the Bureau of Indian affairs in federal court. Um, in July of last year, claiming they violated environmental rules, protecting birds and protecting the environment when they approve the lease.
Speaker 1: 04:53 And this is not the only wind project in the area. Others are planned and wind turbines already operate in the area. So what role do these projects play in the state's goal to reach 100% clean energy by 2045?
Speaker 2: 05:07 Yeah. There, there are quite a few projects in the area there's seven total in that Southeastern corner of the County that are currently in the pipeline somehow, including including this one, the Campo wind project is the largest among those seven. We don't quite know yet who would be benefiting from that energy, whether it would be San Diego, gas and electric or some other utility company. Um, but it most certainly will advance, um, the share of renewable energy in, in local energy production. San Diego is actually a little bit behind other regions in terms of the share of energy it has from renewable sources.
Speaker 1: 05:47 Hmm. What does the tribe think about the opposition from Donna Tisdale?
Speaker 2: 05:51 They certainly have a history. Donna Tisdale has sued other developments on the reservation before there is a difference between sort of the tribe in general, the tribal government speaking as an official voice and S and some tribal members, some tribal members, um, are actually aligned with Donna Tisdale and don't want this project going forward. But as a whole, the tribe did vote to approve the lease. The chairman Marcos quiero, um, said that the opposition makes the process cumbersome and delays the project from getting built, but that he's kind of used to this sort of opposition. And he, he thinks that the project adds value to the community.
Speaker 1: 06:32 So what are the next steps before we know whether the project will move forward or not?
Speaker 2: 06:36 Yeah, there's a few. So there's a few hearings. There's um, in the County case, there is a hearing on December 10th later this year in the federal case, there's a hearing on May 13th. We're also waiting for final approval from the federal aviation administration, which has to confirm that the wind turbines, um, do not cause hazards for air navigation. They're redoing their review right now. Um, actually because they found an error in their previous determination. So we're still also waiting for that approval.
Speaker 1: 07:10 I've been speaking to I new source reporter Comey Von canal. Can we thank you so much. Thank you.