DOE approves 315-MW Ocotillo Express wind project in California

The Department of the Interior today approved construction of a 315-megawatt wind energy facility on more than 10,000 acres of public lands near Ocotillo, Calif.

The project is expected to provide enough electricity to power 94,500 homes and create up to 350 jobs at peak construction.  The project is expected offset approximately 288,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Proposed by Ocotillo Express LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pattern Energy Group LP, the project will produce up to 315 megawatts of electricity via 112 wind turbines sited on public lands. The project will be built on approximately 10,151 acres of public lands in Imperial County, a reduction of nearly 2,300 acres.

The project has undergone extensive environmental review, starting with public scoping in December 2010, followed by a draft environment impact statement (EIS) in July 2011 and a final EIS March 9, 2012. The Bureau of Land Management received hundreds of comments from members of the public, and the final project reflects strong efforts to mitigate potential impacts.

“We have heard from members of Congress, local and state officials and members of the community who feel passionately about this project,” said Jim Kenna, BLM California State Director. “After careful consideration and environmental review, we have worked with interested parties to create a project that protects the important cultural values of the area and produces clean energy on American soil to power the population centers of Southern California.”

The BLM worked closely with affected Native American tribes to minimize impacts of the project.  Officials held four site visits with tribal representatives and dozens of tribal consultation meetings with 10 different tribes. Several changes to the project were made as a result of tribal input, including reducing the number of turbines from 155 to 112, and eliminating turbines that would block certain viewsheds important to the tribes.

The decision also provides for the protection of cultural resources by identifying as unsuitable for future wind energy development approximately 2,285 acres of public land that were within the area analyzed for the Pattern’s proposal but outside the area of the final project.

Portions of the electrical lines will be placed underground, and the project will tie in to the electric grid using transmission lines that already traverse the site, eliminating the need for additional power lines traversing BLM land.

Interior’s decision authorizes the Bureau of Land Management to offer Pattern Energy a right-of-way grant to use these public lands for 30 years if all rents and other conditions are met.