Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this


Decision allows industrial-scale wind development across East County and northeast region, including San Diego's scenic mountain, desert and rural areas

By Miriam Raftery

"This is absolutely unneeded and ill advised."--Commissioner Peder Norby

July 23, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – By a 4-2 vote, San Diego County’s Planning Commission voted Friday to approve a controversial County Wind Energy Ordinance, an amendment to the Boulevard General Plan enabling approval for industrial scale wind turbine projects across vast areas in local mountain, rural and desert areas.  Also approved was an amendment to the Borrego Springs Community Plan to increase flexibility for small turbine projects.   

Communities targeted as prime industrial-scale wind resource areas include Santa Ysabel near Julian, Ranchita, Ocotillo Wells, Boulevard, Campo and Jacumba and other areas under County jurisdiction, as well as many federal recreational and U.S. forest lands as wlell as tribal properties.

Commissioner Peder Norby, who voted against the action, blasted it as “absolutely unneeded and ill-advised.”  He voiced concerns about “noise that could make people sick” as well as environmental problems and placing an undue burden on East County communities. 

“There is no doubt that we can create the same amount of electricity coming out of these wind projects, in fact we can produce more,” he stated, citing rooftop solar as a better alternative.

Two engineers who testified agreed. 

Bill Powers of Powers Engineering has worked on utility-scale energy projects and is now working to organize a local energy alternative to SDG&E in San Diego that would rely on renewable in urban areas—primarily rooftop and parking lot solar. 

He told commissioners that San Diego has potential for 7,000 megwatts (MW) of rooftop solar alone.  Powers also noted that wind energy is intermittent and unreliable, producing only a fraction of the potential energy claimed by the wind industry, whereas solar is far more reliable in our region. He also criticized the county for putting up “barriers” to rooftop solar, adding, “It’s important to have this wind ordinance not go through.”

Dennis Bergman, an electrical engineer from Pine Valley, concurred.  “Our best bet here is solar,” he said. He also voiced fears over obsolence as newer technologies come along, noting that it’s not easy to take down hundreds or even thousands of massive turbines with huge foundations.

Boulevard Planning Group Chair Donna Tisdale  found the decision heartbreaking.

"It was devastating to watch four of the six commissioners voting to side with industry and absentee land owners over our at-risk communities and our long-term vision in our community plan,” she told ECM. “Especially, when a majority originally indicated they would act to protect our rural community character and public health and safety. They just gutted our land use protections and opened the door to the industrialization of our  rural community and iconic boulder strewn ridgelines, lining them with hundreds of 400-500 foot tall turbines.”

She added, “The plan amendment also enables absentee ranch land owners to pack currently open and scenic fields with industrial industrial solar projects. Soitec has 4 Boulevard projects under environmental review with dual tracking Concentratinv Solar PV solar modules that each stand 48 feet wide and 30-35 feet tall and represent over 7,000,000 square feet of density in areas zone for 1 dwelling for 40-80 acres.

Worst of all, they approved the potential for a waiver of low frequency noise restrictions in areas north of I-8, where several wind projects are proposed adjacent to the existing Kumeyaay Wind turbines that are already making impacted residents ill."

In her testimony to commissioners, Tisdale said that areas north of I-8 “are probably even more sensitive” than those south of the freeway.

“Commissioner Norby had it right,” she concluded. “None of this is necessary and it is ill-advised  We can generate more solar energy in a distributed manner where people use it.”

Commissioners Bryan Woods, David Pallinger, John Riess and Leon Brooks voted in favor of the wind ordinance, while commissioners Peder Norby and Michael Beck opposed. Commissioner Adam Day was absent.

Beck and Woods were appointees of Supervisor Dianne Jacob, whose district in East County stands to bear the most negative impacts of the big energy projects planned and proposed. 

Cindy Buxton from the San Diego Sierra Club’s Forest Committee testified against the measure.  “I stood under a 500 KV turbine,” she said, adding that all decision makers should do so.  “It was horrible.”  She stated concerns that forest lands proposed as wilderness areas in San Diego County could be opened up for wind energy development instead.

Mark Ostrander of Jacumba, a retired Cal Fire Battalion Chief, warned that increasing energy infrastructure with large-scale wind projects will raise risk of fire and destroy more chaparral, which is now considered endangered. 

Wind turbines, along with Sunrise Powerlink, “will hamper aerial firefighting,” he warned. “If we have a fire start in a wind area, we’re going to have to wait until it comes out, for the safety of the firefighters.”

That means greater environmental damage and habitat loss, should a wildfire occur in a wind energy facility packed with electrical power lines, transformers, and whirling blades on turbines each weighing around 100 tons.

Several speakers assailed a controversial report by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Department that was dismissive of concerns over health impacts of wind turbines.  The report claimed that Dr. Nina Pierpont, author of  Wind Turbine Syndrome, never had a peer-reviewed study of her findings published.  But in fact she has, as Tisdale pointed out.   

ECM editor Miriam Raftery, who has written numerous articles on wind health issues, called the County study a “whitewash” and noted that like other studies relying only on literature reviews, this one omitted any mention of people in the jurisdiction who are ill and claim wind turbines as the cause. 

“We have been documenting cases of illnesses claimed by people living near wind turbines in our region since 2009,” she said, adding that the Manzanita Indians have been accepted into a university study due to illnesses believed caused by turbines nearby. She also faulted the study for ignoring not only infrasound illness issues, but also stray voltage—since Manzanita has stray voltage measures 1,000 times normal in the tribal hall and church. 

She also presented information on problems occurring at a wind facility under construction in  Ocotillo, where construction grading led to flooding of the town with a white chemical substance and where the developer built turbine roads three times wider than allowed under plans; violations of dust control requirements have also repeatedly occurred in the area, known to have deadly Valley Fever spores.

Commissioner Riess stated that he believes “Pierpont is correct” and questioned the combined impacts of noise and infrasound from numerous turbines. “It affects your bones…all sorts of parts of your body…enough to cause pain.”

Despite those concerns over health impacts on county residents, Reiss inexplicably voted for the wind ordinance anyhow.

Commissioner Woods also voted for the wind ordinance, even after voicing concerns over health, noting that there have been “tons of studies” around the world.

Commissioner Norby observed that a sound device he uses to scare away pocket gophers works without being audible to humans.  So how, he asked, will putting hundreds of turbines emitting infrasound across the backcountry impact our local wildlife?

Commissioner  Beck complained of “contradictory directives” from Supervisors and voiced serious concerns over impacts on sensitive and endangered species.  He joined with Commissioner Norby to vote against the project.

Supporters who testified were vested players in the wind industry or contractors who stand to benefit from the projects.  Ashley Winston, represented the California Wind Industry Association and Enel, which has a project proposed in East County, said that imposing “overly restrictive” requirements would “stifle” the industry.

She dismissed health concerns of residents, adding, “Annoyance is a potential perception” and likened the situation to building roads and highways that make noise.

John Gibson of Hamann Construction in El Cajon said the company owns property with wind energy potential.  “We believe wind has an important role to meet our state’s energy goals,” he said.

Commissioners at times seemed baffled and befuddled as to the best course of action. 

“Is anybody smart enough to figure out a motion?” the Chair asked at one point.

Commissioner Woods, who voted for the wind ordinance, offered several amendments, which were accepted. 

The amendments add “repeating source of sounds” to the noise regulations, which will require setbacks far enough to limit sound to 50 decibels.  Staff estimated average setbacks will be 4,800 to 6400 feet.

The amendments will also require wind developers to clean up and remove debris.  The wind industry will also have leeway to substitute improved technologies in the future. 

In addition, potential waivers may be granted to wind developers for properties north of I-8.

Ultimately, the decision on whether or not to adopt the wind ordinance will be made by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, who will also be voting on the Tule Wind energy project on August 8.  The stakes are high for both the wind industry and backcountry residents—as well as everyone who cares about preserving scenic and sensitive areas in San Diego’s mountains, deserts and rural regions.



Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.


Bridges to Nowhere

The day is coming when these wind projects will be seen for what they are, "bridges to nowhere".   An excuse to rob the taxpayer and provide a meaningless service to society. Our government and leaders need to start telling the truth because these turbines have terrible irreversible impacts and will never be a solution for the nation's energy needs.  In the meantime environmental laws are being smashed all across this country.  These are laws that were put in place for the benefit of our future. Planners like those in San Diego County are helping this industry to break these laws with their fraudulent projects. People had better be paying attention because without these laws and regulations, financial institutions and industry will transform this plant into the next Mars by consuming everything.  And for what? A stinking Dollar.

Smart Alternative

We have one of the smart renewable energy generation alternatives located right in the canyon where we live in Santee:   Santee Lakes Regional Park and Campground.   They have an award-winning solar project consisting of 4 acres of solar panels mounted on their RV storage covers that supply 50 percent of the energy needs for the Campground.  When planning their solar project, they chose to PRESERVE OPEN SPACE AREAS on their property and instead use areas they had already developed.   Bird lovers from near and far can still come to enjoy watching the many species of birds the Lakes support using reclaimed water.   

We support solar projects such as this because they are located on-site where the energy is used, low-profile and eco-and neighbor-friendly, unlike wind farms. 


The glaring inadequacy and

The glaring inadequacy and massive destructiveness of so-called "wind farms" (which are, in fact, little more than exercises in political vanity and goverment waste--giant Solyndras!)--is obvious to anyone who is, A) Acquainted with the basic facts, and, B) Has seen one.

What a one-sided article

Repeating every repeatedly debunked myth regarding wind energy in despair over an intelligent decision by county planners does not lead to a particularly readable or sensible article.

Wind energy is an economic, clean, safe and CO2e-neutral addition to electrical generation. If all fossil fuel generation were replaced with wind energy, 14 million FEWER birds would die annually. Dr. Pierpont's Wind Turbine Syndrome is the shoddiest of papers, recently called "the most spectacularly flawed piece of pseudo-science that I have ever encountered." by a Canadian public health doctor and expert on wind energy's health impacts.

This site contains a collection of articles with real information and links to credible, peer-reviewed material.

The wind industry would like people to believe that.

To believe that there are no health impacts from wind turbines you would have to believe that thousands of people in dozens of countries who claim negative health impacts are all crazy or liars. You would have to believe that some of them gave up their homes and moved away at great personal losses, claiming dreadful health impacts, for no reason. 

I am not convinced these things reduce carbon.  Nobody's calculating how many trees they cut down.  Or the "peaker" power plants burning natural gas that must be built for when there's no wind. Or the carbon expended to build these massive turbines and blades at factories that are mostly overseas, or the fuel expended to ship them across the ocean and then transport them by truck or train.  There are no studies that even calculate these uses.

Pierpont's study is accepted by most everyone other than the wind industry. The Canadian studies are deeply flawed and ignored sick people in their own area - not even interviewing them or their doctors. That is not unbiased, that is a whitewash.

I seriously doubt if birds would be saved by converting to wind, not fossil fuels, though both do kill birds.  What is indisputable though is that if we switched to rooftop and parking lot solar, that would be a lot safer for not only birds, but all the other wildlife being negatively impacted by wind turbines and fossil fuels. Locally those species include bighorn sheep, burrowing owls and others. In Mexico and Tehachapi, California condors are at risk.  

The wind "spin" is that we should accept the horrific dark side impacts of industrial wind as the lesser of two evils, sort of like saying choose your poison.

The right solution is to embrace incentives for rooftop and parking lot solar,  individual vertical axis and other small-scale wind turbines -- not industrial projects that turn our scenic places into factoriesf or the profit of energy corporations.



Truly Confusing!

I attended this meeting and found the motions and amendments hard to follow.

I don't understand why four Commissioners voted to support waivers, directed at the area north of I-8 in Boulevard - ?   Why single out those residents?   That area is also the least fragmented, which staff had concerns about because of wind development.

Commissioner Beck, who voted "No", explained San Diego County is unique because of its biodiversity.   Wind turbines will kill not only endangered bird species like the Golden Eagle, but other sensitive species of birds and bats, including migratory birds.   He also stated he supports conservation.   Staff reported mortality cannot be predicted.   Why allow hundreds of wind turbines when their potential for killing isn't known or what impacts will be incurred because of them?

What is heartbreaking is that it is UNNECESSARY, as Commissioner Norby stated, who also voted "No".

My husband and I enjoy hiking the beautiful backcountry.   Wind turbines will RUIN IT FOREVER!


 This is utterly

 This is utterly heartbreaking. Huge swaths of San Diego's backcountry will be destroyed forever, and much larger areas within the viewscape will now be hideously marred by the sight of space-age wind turbines as tall as skyscrapers. To the Obama Administration, green energy companies (Iberdrola, Pattern, et al) and, last but not least, to our own County Planners: Thanks a lot you conscienceless ideologues, industrialists, and (political) sell-outs.

You've ruined the wilderness