Pattern’s Ocotillo wind project can proceed during legal challenge

A federal judge refused to issue an injunction against a wind project in the California desert that opponents had said would irreparably harm the landscape and Native American cultural resources.

The 112-turbine, 315-MW Ocotillo Wind Energy Center (OWEC) will be built on more than 10,000 acres east of San Diego in Imperial County. Construction has started on the project, with an offtake agreement with Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE) subsidiary San Diego Gas & Electric. The project was developed by Pattern Energy Group.

The Quechan tribe had sued in federal court to immediately stop construction and reverse a U.S. Department of Interior decision on May 11 that approved use of the site on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. That decision was part of the Interior Department’s drive to “fast-track” renewable energy projects on federal lands in the West.

In an order signed on May 22, U.S. District Judge William Hayes, of the Southern District of California, denied a temporary injunction to halt work on the project and said the plaintiffs had failed to show irreparable injury to the site.

“The Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to make a sufficient showing of likelihood of  ‘actual and irreparable injury’ to support the extraordinary remedy of a temporary restraining order prior to a consideration of the merits,” the court said.

The lawsuit contended that construction would destroy burial grounds and other cultural resources on the site as well as destroy landscape views that are critical for Quechan religious practices.

“Plaintiff has submitted evidence that the OWEF Project area contains several identified archaeological sites, but Plaintiff has failed to submit any evidence that the Federal Defendants or Intervenor-Defendant Ocotillo have disturbed or plan to disturb those identified archeological sites,” the ruling said.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision. Pattern has spent three years carefully planning, listening to the community and addressing feedback through numerous project revisions. The new facility will permanently use only 120 acres, less than 1% of the area that was set aside for the project. As part of our commitment to protecting cultural resources, we are working closely with a team of independent archeologists and tribal monitors, which are overseeing all construction activity to ensure the preservation of any resources that may be discovered,” Pattern CEO Mike Garland said in a statement.

The project is slated to be completed by year’s end and will connect to the SDG&E Sunrise Powerlink transmission line.