News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Judge to Hear Case Against Ocotillo Wind Project Friday

Ocotillo Express under construction with ocotillo looking on | Photo: Florian Boyd/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A Federal District Court judge will hear arguments today that construction on Pattern Energy's Ocotillo Express Wind facility, already delivering power in the western Imperial Valley, should be halted until the BLM addresses alleged deficiencies in its approval of the project.

The lawsuit, filed in 2012 by the San Diego-based Desert Protective Council (DPC), argues that the Interior Department inadequately addressed the project's impacts to Peninsular bighorn sheep and golden eagles when it amended the California Desert Conservation Area plan to approve the project.

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(As always, full disclosure: I worked with the DPC until December 2011.)

The hearing will take place at 1:30 Friday afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego. The DPC's suit is one of three against the project now making their way through the litigative process. The Judge who will be hearing arguments from the DPC's and Pattern Energy's lawyers, Gonzalo P. Curiel, heard arguments on a related Motion for Summary Judgment brought by the Quechan Tribe in January. Judge Curiel has not yet issued a ruling on that motion.

The DPC's attorneys will also offer a Motion for Summary Judgment, asking that Judge Curiel stop work on the Ocotillo Express Wind project until the Interior Department properly addresses the project's threats to bighorns and eagles.

The Ocotillo Express Wind Project, which has been delivering power to San Diego Gas & Electric since December, will top out at 315 megawatts of generating capacity when it's completed. That's assuming the wind starts to blow a bit more at Ocotillo than it has been for the last few months: residents have observed that the turbine blades rarely seem to spin at speeds likely to generate power. Note this video from Ocotillo resident Parke Ewing (annotations and commentary are Ewing's not KCET's):

Speaking of landing in court, ReWire reported recently that Pattern Energy employee Russell Scott Graham had been arrested for allegedly threatening and assaulting Ewing as Ewing attempted to photograph the public lands construction site. ReWire has received a statement on that arrest from Pattern Energy spokesperson Beth O'Brien, who told us:

Pattern understands that one of the contractors engaged by the Ocotillo wind project was involved in an incident away from the project site earlier this week, and that an investigation is being conducted by the Imperial County Sheriffs Department. While we do not yet have all of the facts surrounding the incident, Pattern does not condone aggressive or harassing behavior or words by anyone. Once the Sheriffs investigation has been completed, Pattern will be in a better position to determine what if any actions are warranted.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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