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By Nadin Abbott and Sierra Robinson;  Miriam Raftery also contributed to this report

“This is an epidemic and we need help.” – Rowena Elliott, Manzanita tribal member

(photos left, David and Rowena Elliott)

May 6, 2013 (San Diego) –At a press conference outside the county administration building today, backcountry residents living near wind turbines told the media of serious health conditions they are suffering.  With Wednesday’s vote on a county wind ordinance looming, residents called on the county’s top health official, Wilma Wooten, to revise her report and recognize health concerns linked to wind turbines.

According to Donna Tisdale, President of the Boulevard Planning Group and founder of two community nonprofits, the vote is critical. Supervisors will “either sell us out, remove our human and property rights, or the Board (of Supervisors) will vote to protect the community.” 

If that doesn't happen, residents are prepared to file suit, they said.

Health and safety concerns

What is at stake? The health of the community, Tisdale said. Industrial turbines produce infrasound or low-frequency noise and stray voltage which has been measured at 1,000 times higher than normal in homes of those who are ill near the Kumeyaay wind project in Campo.  Residents are experiencing serious health issues ranging from sleeplessness to a cluster of cancer cases. 

The wind industry has long denied that turbines cause health problems.  Critics liken the wind industry to the tobacco industry, however, and say denials by those profiting off the projects should be discounted in the face of mounting evidence worldwide of similar symptoms experienced by people living near wind turbines.

Tisdale asked Supervisors to treat families and neighborhoods in East County “like they would treat their own.”

Tisdale said that these massive industrial wind turbine projects “are not green” since they destroy thousands of acres of habitat. Wind projects proposed in her community would cover 35,000 acres of federal, state, tribal and private lands; solar projects would cover an addition 47,00 acres--or roughly the ame ground area to 48 Wal-Mart supercenters. 

Residents held signs with photos of wind turbines that have caught fire, collapsed, and crushed a vehicle below (photo, right) They accurately point out that setbacks in the proposed wind ordinance are inadequate to protect against such hazards.  Tisdale noted that blades from prior wind projects in her community have been hurled off, traveling nearly a mile—and one decapitated an owner attempting repair work.

Rowena Elliot, a Manzanita tribal member, is among the closest residents to the existing Kumeyaay wind turbines in Campo.  She told the assembled press that she can’t sleep, she has headaches and stomach pain, and a lot of other health problems that started after the turbines went on line.

”We are native people, native to this land. This is the genocide of the 21st century,” said Elliott.  “This is an epidemic and we need help.”

If all projects proposed are built, Elliott would soon have several more wind projects topping every ridgeline neare her home, along with several industrial-scale solar projects that she believes will worsen her health. “I can’t even imagine,” she said.

A Cal State San Marcos preliminary health study found Manzanita tribal members with symptoms consistent with Wind Turbine Syndrome.  Despite mounting evidence, however, tribal leaders have refused to take action to protect their members.

Rowena Elliott told ECM that tribal leaders have threatened to dis-enroll members who speak out  against the turbines and further, sought to block her from having additional measurements taken at her home.

Manzanita tribal council member Angela Santos repeatedly refused to answer questions about the project or Elliott’s allegations. “I have no comment for the press,” she stated repeatedly. The tribe has reportedly sought to lease a portion of its lands for wind energy development.

Dave Elliot spoke next. He emphasized that they live in close proximity to the turbines and voiced concerns over electromagnetic frequencies. He said that tribal leaders have intimidated his neighbors, who fear to come out and speak out. He then went down a list of health effects. He believes a heart attack he had is related and said he has suffered cardiac flutter, sleep disturbances, ringing in the ears, anxiety, blurred vision, wooziness, ear pressure, pain in his joint, back and ribs, and never feeling rested since the turbines went in.

He also mentioned the shadow effect. When the blades are going they will project light and shadow coming and going, which can be unsettling. In the beginning “it startles you” it also startles the animals, he observed.

When the wind blows just right, he said the noise is like that of two jets that does not go away. “Freeway noise does not even compare to the turbines’ noise,” on windy days, he said.  (View video with audio of loud noises from turbines on a rare windy day in Ocotillo, recorded a day after this press conference.)

Bob Maupin lives 100 yards from the Southwest Powerlink.  His wife has cancer and is on chemotherapy.  He believes efforts to turn this region into an energy corridor is “a crime.” He is fearful of the impacts of even more high voltage lines slated as part of the proposed wind and solar projects covering thousands of square feet.

Jim Pelley of Ocotillo has 112 turbines around his home, within one half a mile. He moved to Ocotillo to find a nice place to live, in a rural setting.

“My home was taken from me,” said Pelley, an aerospace engineer.   

He repeated the same issues the Elliot’s went though. He also is having trouble sleeping, has headaches, and even his dogs are acting strange.

When he opens his door in the morning, he no longer “looks at the beautiful Coyote Mountains but the turbines.” The red lights that are put on the turbines “have a laser light shine” that hurts his eyes at n ight, shining through his windows.

It is like sleeping on the deck of an aircraft carrier, said Pelley, who added that the project by Pattern Energy has changed the community. It used to be a very tight rural community, but Pattern “succeeded in dividing and conquering the community.” He also echoed Tisdale, and said that the projects are “not green energy, it’s greed energy.”   

Wind industry’s inflated claims

After all that devastation, it turns out the turbines are producing power output far below expectations.  Pattern Energy told the federal government the turbines would produce 34% of capacity.  “It appears to be at  19%,” Pelley said of data just released documenting the first three months of the project’s operations.  That’s far less than what Pattern projected in order to pocket federal subsidies. 

Pelley added that “the cost of the energy will be very expensive” and predicted wind power will raise rates for SDG&E consumers.

Pelley also explained that Pattern used foundations that are standard for the rest of the country, but not for this highly active seismic zone where some of the turbines are right over the Elsinore Fault line. The project also sits in a flood plain and has forever changed the ecosystem and rerouted water flow in Ocotillo, increasing the risks of flash floods.

He looked into the cameras and said, “I am not against renewable, and rooftop solar is the solution. This is a ticking bomb waiting to go off.”

San Diego resident John Kennedy told ECM that companies based projections on the assumption that turbines would be “blowing all the time, when that’s impossible.” He added that the power grid needs a constant energy source that wind can’t provide.  As a result, power companies propose peaker gas powered plants as backup, such as  Quail Brush.

Wildlife issues

Many also voiced concerns over wildlife.  The area has some of the last remaining golden eagles in San Diego County—and the eagle expert hired by Iberdrola, a wind developer seeking to build Tule Wind in McCain Valley, recently pled guilty to illegally taking an eagle and other offenses. Turbine blades kill raptors and dead birds have been observed being hauled away beneath the Campo turbines, Tisdale said.  

Risk of Fires

Mark Ostrander is a retired Cal-Fire Battalion Chief, with over 30 years of experience on the fire line. ECM talked with the retired Chief on the special needs to fight these fires. A fire involving a turbine is not like a wildfire. There are several special dangers fire crews will face, which in a Santa Anna will complicate things.

The first is that this is a fire in an electrical zone. Imagine fighting a fire on your electrical system. You can’t use water on that. You need to use special fire fighting chemicals, and special response teams. This is not something that is under the reach of your usual Strike Team. So at the very least, “they will have to change their tactics and wait until the fire leaves the electrified zone to fight it.”

This essentially changes the tactics used by the fire service from suppression at place of origin, to defensive tactics.

In a non-windy day this might be feasible, but during a Santa Anna this could (probably will) have disastrous effects. Ostrander was very plain, “The County knows this.”

So what about air attack? Cal Fire has both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, but they do not carry the specific chemical used in an electric fire, second, the chemical would do major damage to the electrical systems.  Third, when you have towers that high, with blades going around, that poses a risk to crews that again will force fire fighters to take on a defensive stance. .  This once again could prove deadly.

Also fire retardant chemicals work best at 150 to 300 feet; wind turbines are 500 feet high.

In a few occasions, like the Coyote Fire, air attack units dropped retardant when they thought they were clear from the power lines, and they still got muck on them. San Diego Gas and Electric had to do some major repairs to those transmission lines.

We live in a county that has seen disastrous wildfires already, and that does not have the specialized teams prepositioned to deal with this. The backcountry relies largely on volunteer firefighters.

This year is expected to be a busy fire season all over the Western United States. Do we really need the added risk posed by these towers, residents ask?

Supervisors seek to gut rural community’s plan, impose industrialization

Severe fire danger is why, according to Tisdale, the “general plan left Boulevard and the back country as rural,” but now the energy companies are pushing the County to allow industrial-scale energy projects—and Supervisors seek to gut the community plan which Boulevard spent years crafting. Boulevard’s planning group has voted unanimously to oppose both the wind ordinance and the plan change—but ultimately Supervisors, not residents, have the final say.

Why urban San Diego residents should care

San Diego urban residents might very well see the effects of these policy decisions;  if one of these turbines starts a fire in the middle of a Santa Anna we might see a firestorm. This is what happened with the Witch Fire, which started with power lines. Or the Harris Fire, which roared through areas near where turbines are proposed fueled by 100 mph winds. In a mega fire storm and residents of the City of San Diego might have to evacuate again to Qualcomm Stadium

“These are specialized fires requiring specialized equipment.” Neither of these exists in the backcountry.

There is also growing risk that Valley Fever spores from rural areas could be blown into suburban and urban areas in San Diego, spreading the potentially deadly disease.

Valley Fever

ECM asked about Valley Fever, given an L.A. Times article linking the epidemic to large-scale renewable energy projects scraping bare desert soils.

Tisdale explained that every time you remove the top layer of soil, as it is done with these projects, you risk the spread of pathogens that otherwise live in the soil. It also “opens the soil to erosion.”

Valley Fever cases are up 90% across the Southwest and has reached epidemic proportions in California. San Diego had 150 cases in 2011, the last year for which records have been provided, though the CDC estimates cases are likely ten-fold higher.  Several thousand deaths have been attributed to Valley Fever, including 36 at two prisons in California’s central valley.  Spores can blow 75 miles or more, making all of San Diego County vulnerable.

Water Issues

Lorrie Ostrander, a back country resident and wife of Chief Ostrander (ret)  went into the use of water. Most of us in the city get water from our pipes and the city water system. This means that every time we turn on the water, there it is. In the backcountry residents rely on wells.

The wind companies are also tapping into well water. There is not enough water for all the projects in the Artesian system, which could and will mean real trouble for both residents and wildlife, that rely on it for day-to-day survival, Ostrander said.

More high voltage lines

Finally Tisdale mentioned that SDG&E is looking at building another two sets of high-voltage 2 500 Kv transmission lines. These lines are also related to the Energia Juarez Wind Project in Mexicali, being built by both Sempra Energy and the Compañia Federal de Electricidad (CFE). This project is supposed to also feed electricity to San Diego County.

“Immoral and illegal”

Tisdale called the proposed industrial-scale energy projects slated for East County “immoral and unlawful.”  She believes that the real agenda is “all about money” in a scheme that started with ENRON’s Ken Lay and Vice President Dick Cheney. Oil companies began starting wind projects subsidized by tax dollars, then reselling and “flipping” projects for profits. 

A safer solution

Backcountry residents emphasized that they support renewable energy but believe energy should be produced near the point of use—such as with solar panels on rooftops and parking lots in the already built environment—not projects that jeopardize the health, safety, and way of life for residents in rural communities.

A plea for justice

"Tell the world that these turbines are not all they're cracked up to be," Rowena Elliott implored. "They're not feasible--and we need to take a deeper look."


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