Opponents of a wind project that will dot the ridgeline of the McCain Valley in San Diego’s East County lost a court decision this week, meaning an expansion to the Tule Wind Project remains on schedule.
The Protect Our Communities Foundation (POC) battled the project from its inception, claiming the blades from wind turbines pose a danger to birds — golden eagles in particular.
But on Monday, a U.S. District Court judge in San Diego turned down the group’s case, saying the federal government did not violate its own procedures when it OK’d the second phase of the project that will deliver wind energy on lands belonging to the Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians and the state of California.
“This ill-conceived project will turn important golden eagle breeding territory into a graveyard for an iconic and protected species and destroy thousands of acres of pristine, wild desert,” April Rose Sommer, executive director of POC said in an email.
Avangrid Renewables, the company in charge of the Tule Wind Project, has long insisted the wind farm is safe.
Concerns about bird fatalities are “a serious issue that has really been given a lot of consideration and thought,” said Jeffrey Durorcher, senior counsel for Avangrid. “We’re going to be diligent and responsible about it.”
The second phase of the Tule project is considerably smaller than the first phase, which is under construction and expected to be completed by no later than the end of the year.
Called Tule I, the first half of the project is expected to erect 52 General Electric turbineswith towers 262 feet high and 351 feet in diameter, with an estimated capacity for 132 megawatts of electricity.
Southern California Edison has signed a 15-year power purchase agreement and the turbines will be connected to a substation operated by San Diego Gas & Electric.
Tule II will not be constructed until Tule I is finished and has been permitted for as many as 24 turbines with a capacity of 69 megawatts. Last fall, developers said seven turbines on Tule II will be built on state land and as many as 17 on land belonging to the Ewiiaapaayp Band.
“It’s very windy” on the reservation, Michael Garcia, vice chairman of the Ewiiaapaayp Band, told the Union-Tribune during a groundbreaking ceremony last year. “It’s an easy resource to recoup. So we just see a good opportunity there.”
Covering 640 acres, Tule II’s wind turbines will be located about 1,500 to 2,000 feet higher than Tule I. Last October, the State Lands Commission unanimously approved a 40-year lease for Tule II.
POC officials say they are not opposed to renewable energy but say the Tule Wind Project is located in a dangerous spot for birds, citing memos from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game that said Tule II “has a high potential” to injure or kill golden eagles and could impact their breeding territories.
But U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino ruled Monday that the Bureau of Indian Affairs came to a “carefully considered” decision when it approved Tule II and followed safeguards from the National Environmental Policy Act.
POC has taken both phases of the project to court but have been turned back each time. Sommer said her group is considering its next steps, including an appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
Tule Wind Project Expansion Clears Legal Hurdle, by Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Tribune, March 8, 2017.