Wind Project on Tribal Land Dies Quietly


Wind turbines near Campo | Photo: Joel Price/Flickr/Creative Commons License

by Chris Clarke

on February 24, 2014

It’s official: a wind power project that would have generated up to 250 megawatts of power with as many as 85 turbines in the San Diego County backcountry is off the table.

The Shu’luuk Wind Project, proposed by the firm Invenergy for up to 4,000 acres of the Campo Indian Reservation, suffered a mortal blow last June when the tribe’s General Council voted 44-34 to oppose the project. Opposition stemmed from concerns over quality of life, the risk of fire, and perceived health impacts of the project.

Though the project’s proponents had suggested last June that they might seek another vote on the project, the tribe subsequently canceled its lease with the project’s proponent Invenergy. On Thursday, the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced that it was cancelling the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), thus sticking the proverbial fork in Shu’luuk Wind.

Shu’luuk Wind’s Draft EIS, released in January 2013, was widely criticized for containing insufficient detail about the project’s design, including the type and output of the turbines to be built. Nonetheless, tribe members and other locals expressed strong concerns over fire danger from the project in the traditionally highly flammable San Diego backcountry, as well as increased dust problems from more than 25 miles of new dirt roads, along with concerns over noise and visual disturbance.

The cancellation of the final EIS doesn’t mean there won’t be turbines on the Campo reservation: the tribe already hosts an existing wind installation, the Kumeyaay Wind Farm, with 25 large turbines. An explosion and fire in one of that project’s turbines December 16 didn’t exactly alleviate locals’ concerns about fire danger from local wind development. That facility was offline for nearly a month after the mishap.

Also in December, the BIA approved a deal by which the nearby Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay
Indians would lease reservation lands for a westward expansion of the large Tule Wind project, which would be mainly sited on BLM lands to the east of that band’s Cuyapaipe Reservation, and just north of the Campo Reservation.

Opinion on the Shu’luuk project was mixed within the Campo Reservation’s residents as well, so the cancellation of that project doesn’t necessarily mean the end of new wind projects on Native lands in the backcountry. But as more turbines appear in the area, opposition could intensify.

Wind turbines near Campo | Photo: Joel Price/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Feds OK Eagle Deaths From Wind Turbines; Osage Object

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

They are akin to 30-story spinning skyscrapers, their rotors the width of a jet plane’s wingspan and the blade tips moving at up to 170 miles per hour, creating tornado-like vortexes.

Bald and golden eagles, as well as millions of other birds, are sucked in and chopped up annually by wind farms’ whirling turbines, as the Associated Press described it. Wind farms are killing birds, and the government of President Barack Obama has just decreed it to be collateral damage in the quest for clean energy.

With climate change and renewable energy foremost on many peoples’ minds, Obama has said that wind energy companies will be allowed to kill (accidentally) a certain number of eagles and other birds under 30-year permits. In return the companies must take measures to prevent such deaths and will be required to track and report the number of birds that are killed in their turbines, the AP reported on December 6.

Permits will last 30 years and be reviewed every five years, the U.S. Department of the Interior said in its statement announcing the rules change. It builds on a permitting program begun in 2009 under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the department said.

While the measure’s stated purpose is to acknowledge that some bird deaths are inevitable, environmental stewards hold that such allowances give companies too much leeway. The Osage Tribe is already battling an application for just such a permit by Wind Capital Group. The company is seeking to build a 94-turbine wind farm and estimates it would kill up to 120 eagles annually during the life of the project.

RELATED: Osage Nation Objects to Wind-Turbine Company’s Potentially Precedent-Setting Request to Kill Bald Eagles

The Osage reacted strongly to Obama’s rule change announcement and said the President should know better.

“President Obama knows how important eagle feathers are to us: He was adopted into the Crow Nation and was adorned with a full war bonnet containing eagle feathers from head to toe,” said Assistant Principal Chief Scott N. Bighorse, according to the AP.

The Audubon Society said it would challenge the new ruling, which was handed down the by U.S. Department of the Interior.

“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the Audubon Society, in a statement. “It’s outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the bald eagle.”

The nation’s highest priority should on finding “reasonable, thoughtful partners to wean America off fossil fuels,” Yarnold said. “We have no choice but to challenge this decision, and all options are on the table.”

Duke Energy Corp. pleaded guilty last month and was fined copy million last month for killing eagles with its wind turbines.

RELATED: Eagle-Killing Wind Turbine Company Fined copy Million

Meanwhile, as of December 11, 15 companies had applied for permits, not just wind power enterprises but also building companies and the military, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services spokesperson Chris Tollefson to the Journal Record. The Fish and Wildlife Service is in the middle of a 60-day public-comment period that ends on February 3 on environmental considerations for the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind projects in Wyoming. Two public hearings are scheduled, the first one on December 16 in Rawlins, Wyoming and the second on December 17 in Saratoga, Wyoming, according to Greenwire. The project itself was approved last year, Greenwire reported. The facility “proposes to string together as many as 1,000 turbines across more than 220,000 acres of BLM and ranch lands,” Greenwire said. The environmental review is to determine such a project’s effect on golden eagles.

Below, the Osage Nation explains the effect of wind turbines on migrating eagles.



More of America’s wind turbines are actually being built in America

By John Upton, Grist

The equipment that’s powering America’s wind energy boom is increasingly being made right at home.

In 2007, just 25 percent of turbine components used in new wind farms in the U.S. were produced domestically. By last year, that figure had risen to 72 percent, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy. And exports of such equipment rose to $388 million last year, up from $16 million in 2007.

This happened even as the U.S. was installing a whole lot of turbines. More than 13.1 gigawatts of new wind power capacity was added to the U.S. grid in 2012, representing $25 billion of investment. That made wind the nation’s fastest-growing electricity source last year, faster even than natural gas–fueled power.

Unfortunately, there were job losses in the sector last year, with the number of wind industry manufacturing jobs falling to 25,500 from 30,000 the year before. That’s because there was a lull and some factory closures after a mad scramble to fulfill orders placed before a federal tax credit expired. (It was renewed for this year, but its future is still up in the air.)

The better news is that the number of workers both indirectly and directly employed by the sector grew to 80,700 in 2012, up from 75,000 the year before.

And as the wind energy sector has grown, so too has the diversity of companies that comprise it, as shown in this chart from the DOE report:

Click to embiggen.
Energy Department
John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: