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The US Department of the Interior has issued its final approval of the Tule Wind Power Project with Secretary Ken Salazar signing the Record of Decision on the Environmental Impact Statement; this is the approval for the portion of the project on federal lands, making it the first approval of five California “priority” wind energy projects proposed for public lands.
“We applaud the effort by the Department of the Interior, which worked closely with the State of California to effectively execute the environmental review process for Tule Wind and other priority projects to bring jobs and revenue to these communities,” said Harley McDonald, Business Developer for Iberdrola Renewables.
According to Iberdrola, in late 2009, Secretary Salazar and then-Governor Schwarzenegger signed an agreement directing Interior and California State agencies to create a federal-state initiative to advance development of environmentally appropriate renewable energy on US lands in California. They say the Tule Wind Power Project, an up to 200 MW wind energy facility, is proposed for the McCain Valley in Eastern San Diego County. The federal lands portion of the project approved by the Department of Interior will generate up to 186 MW.
Iberdrola say the federal agency’s approval of Tule Wind is the first of several needed to bring this important source of clean energy to San Diego. The project is located within four jurisdictions and will need additional approvals from the California Public Utilities Commission, Bureau of Indian Affairs, California State Lands Commission and County of San Diego.
“The County of San Diego will be holding hearings on our Major Use Permit application in the first quarter of 2012,” said McDonald. “The Planning Commission, then likely the Board of Supervisors, will be voting on whether this project will be allowed to proceed. It is important that all our permits are secured in the next few months, so the project can have a chance to be built and deliver energy before the end of 2012 when the current tax credits expire.”
The Tule Wind Power Project, as proposed, is expected to produce enough clean energy for approximately 60,000 San Diego-area homes, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 230,000 tons and reduce water use by 149 million gallons per year by displacing gas-fired generation.
“More than five years of environmental studies have found that Tule Wind will have very low impact to cultural, wildlife and natural resources,” said McDonald.
In its Record of Decision, the Department of the Interior selected an alternative that reduced the number of turbines on public lands from 128 turbines to 62 turbines – in order to avoid biological, cultural and hydrological resources. Iberdrola Renewables has worked in close collaboration with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and species-specific biological experts to identify the risk to sensitive and endangered species near the project area and develop a comprehensive Avian & Bat Protection Plan for the project.
“We’ve been working closely with the Fish & Wildlife Service on science-based solutions to avoid impact to all avian species – in particular, golden eagles,” said Stu S. Webster, director of Permitting & Environmental for Iberdrola Renewables.
“All the federal agencies involved in this effort recognise the need to minimise the project’s environmental impacts, and realize the broader benefits of wind energy, creating jobs and meeting renewable energy goals,” said Webster.
Iberdrola explain that they conducted several years of avian point counts, conducted telemetry studies on golden eagles and nesting surveys in compliance with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Game – and only two golden eagle observations were made during two years of avian use surveys at the project site, explained Webster. “The studies indicated low use of the site by golden eagles, telling us that collision with a Tule Wind turbine is unlikely,” said Webster. “However to err on the side of caution and prove that our science-based deductions are accurate, we have commissioned to continue another year of studies on the northern ridge through the Wildlife Research Institute, which has been studying eagle activity in San Diego County for 23 years. It is expected that these additional studies will confirm little-to-no use by the eagles of the valley portion of the project area and further characterise eagle use near the northern ridge and confirm that there is very low risk to these eagles.”
WRI has already conducted two years of golden eagle nesting and territory analyses and one year of raptor migration studies on the project site.
Iberdrola say that Tule Wind will add to the region’s economy by providing:
“CleanTECH San Diego is keenly interested in not only the region’s air quality, but also economic opportunities that create jobs for our region,” said Jim Waring, President and CEO, CleanTECH San Diego. “As a leader in the clean energy economy, we support the development of renewable energy projects that further diversify our energy resources. To this end, we encourage the County Board of Supervisors to approve Tule Wind as proposed, to fuel the region’s economy and meet clean air mandates.”
“We’re thrilled to see the Tule Wind Power Project moving in the right direction, bringing jobs, sustainability and economic prosperity to San Diego County,” said Scott Alevy, President and CEO of the East County Chamber of Commerce. “It is important that we clear the green tape to advance these projects that provide such great benefit to not only the environment, but also the local economies they will serve.”
The Tule Wind Power Project Environmental Impact Statement/Report was performed in accordance with guidelines set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act and California Environmental Quality Act, and was studied jointly with the proposed San Diego Gas & Electric East County Substation and Sempra Energy’s Energia Sierra Juarez’ Gen-Tie Line.
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