Lawsuit filed to stop 315-MW Ocotillo wind project

The Quechan Tribe has gone to federal court to stop a 315-MW wind farm that the federal government just approved.

The tribe sued in U.S. District Court on May 15 to halt the pending construction of the Ocotillo Wind Energy Center (OWEC) east of San Diego. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on May 11 signed a Record of Decision (ROD) granting Pattern Energy of San Francisco the right-of-way to proceed on more than 10,000 acres of California desert to build the 122 turbines, substations, and access roads.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop work from proceeding at the site and a reversal of the ROD approved by the Department of Interior. The suit says the project disturbs ancient burial grounds and destroys the view shed on landscapes that have been integral to Quechan history for thousands of years.  “The Ocotillo ROD approves issuance of a right-of-way (in areas) … that contain hundreds of archaeological sites (containing tens of thousands of individual artifacts) eligible and potentially eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places,” the suit says.

Pattern Energy said it has made efforts to address tribal environmental and cultural resources. “While Pattern has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation, the Environmental Impact Statement clearly demonstrates that we have designed the Ocotillo Wind Project to minimize impacts on cultural and environmental resources,” the company is quoted as saying. Pattern went on to say it is committed to building the project in a responsible manner and bringing  energy, jobs and economic development benefits to the Imperial Valley.

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. OWEC has been cited by proponents as an example of the Interior Department’s and Bureau of Land Management’s drive to streamline the approval process for renewable energy projects across vast tracts in the West.