Feds approve Pattern Energy’s 315-MW Ocotillo wind project

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has signed off on a wind farm mostly on federal lands east of San Diego.

The Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility in Southern California gained approval of its Environmental Impact Statement from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar under the “fast track” approvals the federal government has refined over the past three years to expedite renewable energy projects on vast tracts of land, primarily in the West.

The Record of Decision (ROD) filed by the DOI and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on May 11 grants a right-of-way to San Francisco-based Pattern Energy Group LP to access more than 10,000 acres to build a wind project that is expected to generate 315 MW.

The BLM said its review eliminated more than 2,300 acres from the original project footprint and reduced the number of turbines from 155 to 122 to accommodate Native American tribes’ objections that it impinged on burial grounds and other cultural resources.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in January approved a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with San Diego Gas & Electric, a subsidiary of Sempra  Energy (NYSE: SRE) for the project. Pattern plans to begin construction soon year and begin generating power by the end of 2012  It will connect to the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line SDG&E is building through the BLM-managed desert.

Pattern said it worked  with the BLM and related agencies for three years required to obtain the necessary permits and rights of way on BLM land.

While the Obama administration, some states and the renewable energy industry has worked together to streamline the permitting process on such projects, not all are pleased.

A coalition of environmental leaders, tribal representatives, off-road vehicle users, writers/artists, hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, community residents and legal spokespersons have called for a moratorium on “fast tracking” massive energy projects on federal public lands.

“This industrial wind project is symbolic of what’s wrong with the current federal fast-tracking process,” Terry Weiner, Imperial County Projects Coordinator for the Desert Protective Council, said of the OWEF. Imperial County’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors also approved construction at the end of April of portions not on federal lands.

“Industrialization of the 20 square miles of desert for the OWEF will cause irreparable impacts to fragile natural and Native American cultural resources, to the adjacent Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, to Ocotillo’s community character, quality of life and public health,” the group said.