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Is There Really Enough Wind to Justify Ocotillo Express?

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Not a video: turbines at the Ocotillo Express Wind Farm | Photo: Florian Boyd/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Is there really enough wind in Ocotillo to justify the area's wind turbines? That's a question some Imperial County residents are asking this week, as Ocotillo Express Wind's operator Pattern Energy slowly brings back online turbines that had been shut down after a May accident. A few residents are charging that the area's wind speeds are below what a viable wind facility needs to generate power for at least half a typical year.

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According to an article by Alejandro Davila published Saturday in the Imperial Valley Press, Ocotillo residents are planning to file suit against Pattern Energy under the False Claims Act, a federal law that allows citizen-whistleblowers to sue when they feel private firms have profited by msleading the U.S. Government.

Ocotillo property owner William Pate told Davila that he felt Ocotillo Express' operator had done just that. "Pattern Energy has done (that) in a number of fronts, the wind resources being one of those," Pate told the Imperial Valley Press.

Observations of the area's low wind speeds have bedeviled the theoretically 265-megawatt project since it went online in December, with residents documenting stationary or slow-moving blades in videos on social media. According to turbine manufacturer Siemens, the Ocotillo Express facility can generate power with wind speeds as low as seven miles per hour, though at what percentage of the turbines' maximum capacity ReWire hasn't yet puzzled out.

As far as the California Energy Commission is concerned, though, areas with average wind speeds of less than 13 miles per hour are considered "marginal" wind resource areas, with "good" wind resources starting at just under 16 mph.

Ocotillo can definitely get windy, especially in months when a strong marine layer sends fog and clouds well inland. But the actual quality of the wind resource is open to question. According to Davila, the project's Environmental Impact Statement used windspeeds from the nearby town of Boulevard as representative of those in the area. Boulevard is at the crest of the mountains just west of Ocotillo, wiith consequent stronger winds -- a criticism that Ocotillo residents haven't been shy about leveling at Pattern.

According to longtime Ocotillo resident and frequent ReWire correspondent Jim Pelley, average winds in Ocotillo run around eight mph, well below the 20 or so mph needed for optimum wind power production.

Pattern is mum about the project's actual energy production. One thing's for certain, as Davila points out: from the day a 10-ton blade broke off one of the turbines in May until Wednesday July 3, the day when Pattern started firing those turbines up again, the facility's production was almost certainly something like zero megawatt-hours.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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