San Diego Union Tribune
January 25, 2018
By: Rob Nikolewski
After 13 years of bureaucratic and legal battles, the Tule Wind Farm in a rugged area of San Diego’s East County is now producing electricity.
- The project’s 57 wind turbines loom over the landscape along Interstate 8.
- The turbines are 262 feet high and have blades attached to rotors that have a diameter of 351 feet — more than the length of a football field.
- The company running the project says it will generate enough electricity to supply the equivalent of about 40,000 homes with power.
- But opponents say the project will harm the area’s habitat and kill birds, especially golden eagles.
The Tule Wind Project gets up and running: Here’s the full story
They loom over the rugged and blustery terrain of the McCain Valley in San Diego’s East County — 57 wind turbines, each equipped with three blades that rotate like massive pinwheels.
“I think it looks elegant, but I’ve always thought that, even before I got into this business,” said Harley McDonald, senior business developer at Avangrid Renewables, the Oregon-based company that operates the Tule Wind Farm that opened Jan. 12.
The towers are not concentrated in a single location. Instead, they cover an expanse of about 5 miles, connected by dirt roads. They loom so high that no driver traveling on Interstate 8 can miss them.
The turbines climb 262 feet into the sky and the blades attached to each rotor stretch to a diameter of 351 feet — more than the length of a football field — in order to catch the maximum amount of wind that consistently blows through the area’s rocks, brush, cacti and canyons.
Up close, the sheer height of the turbines is visually striking. The sound is consistent but almost tidal, as the massive blades rise and fall with each rhythmic and powerful swoop.
“It’s very sad to hear the project is up and running,” said April Maurath Sommer, executive director of the Protect Our Communities Foundation. “We really support the transition to a cleaner grid but it should be a cleaner grid that is truly sustainable and projects that are particularly hard on imperiled wildlife and in areas that are undeveloped and have a unique, pristine habitat are not sustainable.”
The operators of the 131.1-megawatt Tule Wind Farm predict the project will generate enough electricity to service about 40,000 homes and help the area meet state and local clean-energy goals.
Under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, California’s publicly owned utilities must procure 50 percent of their electricity from eligible renewable energy resources by 2030.
The City of San Diego Climate Action Plan requires annual emissions be cut in half by 2035.
Southern California Edison has signed a 15-year power purchase agreement and the wind farm is connected to a nearby substation operated by San Diego Gas & Electric.
“This is a step in the right direction of becoming energy independent,” said McDonald, who has spent eight years working on the project.
Officials at Avangrid Renewables would not disclose how much the project cost — saying the information was proprietary — but judging by the generally accepted industry standards, a project the size of Tule would come to more than $200 million in construction costs.
The company said the project is expected to deliver more than $39 million in state and local tax benefits over 25 years. Eight full-time employees work at the site.
The Tule Wind Farm takes up about 12,000 acres and Avangrid plans to add 24 more turbines in the near future.
Called Tule II, the expansion received the go-ahead from the State Lands Commission in 2016 for a 40-year lease but McDonald said more permits need to be obtained before construction starts.
Seven of the turbines designated for construction at Tule II will be on state land and 17 are slated to be erected on land belonging to the Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians.
The Protect Our Communities Foundation (POC), which lost in its attempts in court to derail the first phase of the project from being built, is trying to stop Tule II as well.
Arguing that an expansion will harm habitat and kill golden eagles, POC says the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs did not follow its own procedures when it OK’d Tule II.
A U.S. District court judge ruled against POC in March 2017 but the group has filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“These eagles are just going to get ground to death,” Maurath Sommer said.
McDonald said Avangrid has been careful to make sure wildlife and birds are protected.
“We did several years of environmental studies to make sure the project was properly sited and that the impacts that we would have would be minimal,” McDonald said. “We found that this project is in the right location at the right time.”
McDonald expects Tule II to be completed in 2020 or 2021.