Los Angeles Moves Ahead with 120 MW Wind Project

The state of California is regularly applauded for its various commitments to renewable energy, but cities like Los Angeles are also doing their part. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Board of Commissioners approved the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to move forward with a wind power project that will provide up to 120 MW of wind power for the City of Los Angeles.

The Pine Tree Wind project, which also will be the largest municipally owned wind plant in the U.S., would provide enough energy to power approximately 56,000 homes per year. Located in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, which is north of Mojave, California, the project will consist of 80 1.5-MW wind turbine generators as well as a 10-mile transmission line and electrical substation. “The Pine Tree Wind Project will be a powerful step toward achieving my goal of a 20 percent renewable power mix by 2017,” said Mayor Jim Hahn. “Through advanced technology and environmental sensitivity, we will not only increase our sources of renewable energy, we will reduce harmful emissions and help protect our environment at the same time.” The Board’s action paves the way for construction of the project, slated to begin this summer and take about 10 months to complete. LADWP expects to seek approval of the construction contract from the Board and City Council, as well as take steps to acquire the necessary permits, in the next few months. “The Pine Tree Wind project demonstrates the City’s and LADWP’s commitment toward achieving the goals established by the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which aims to improve air quality and provide sustainable energy resources,” said Dominick Rubalcava, president of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners. The Pine Tree Wind project will be the largest wind energy system built in the Western United States since passage of the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS). Although the state-mandated RPS does not apply to municipal utilities such as LADWP, the Los Angeles City Council approved an RPS resolution in 2004 that calls for LADWP to increase the amount of energy it provides from renewable power sources to 13 percent of its energy sales to retail customers by 2010 and 20 percent by 2017. A coalition of environmental organizations — including the Coalition for Clean Air, Global Green USA, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles — voiced support for the project during this week’s Board meeting. In a letter addressed to the Board, the coalition stated that LADWP has taken appropriate steps to address stakeholder concerns about the project’s impacts on the local community, wildlife and natural resources. “Pine Tree is an excellent project model for a municipal utility: to engage private experienced developers to build and transfer ownership to the city of a large, renewable energy project that provides reliable, cost-effective and environmentally preferable energy to ratepayers,” the letter stated. By reducing use of fossil fuels, the project would displace LADWP’s annual gas costs by about $15 million per year. The final EIR addresses two major concerns raised during the environmental review process, including the potential impact to birds that may come in contact with the turbine blades, and potential conflicts between recreational users and construction traffic on Jawbone Canyon Road. In response to avian concerns, LADWP completed additional avian surveys in fall 2004 and winter 2005. An avian specialist determined the site of the project is not a major pathway or stopover for migrating birds. In addition, the avian studies will continue through this spring and early summer, and a qualified ornithologist will monitor bird mortality incidents for one year following the first delivery of power. The EIR contains language that requires LADWP to make operational changes if there are disproportionately high levels of bird deaths compared to other turbines on the site. “The EIR process brought up some viable concerns that have been thoroughly examined and addressed,” Rubalcava said. “LADWP will continue to monitor the operation for avian-related problems and will make modifications if necessary in consultation with the appropriate regulatory agencies.” Appropriate agencies would include the California Department of Fish and Game, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. LADWP also agreed to mitigate potential conflicts with recreational users and construction traffic. LADWP will help fund a Bureau of Land Management ranger position to assist with security and safety hazards during construction. LADWP will also prohibit traffic due to construction supply deliveries during holiday weekend from November through May. Announced in February 2003, LADWP spent about a year designing a wind project that would minimize potential impacts to sensitive environmental resources and that would be compatible with military training activities. According to the current design, the project will be built on approximately 8,000 acres (about 12.5 square miles) that was reduced from the original 22,000-acre site, on privately owned property.
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