|(photo courtesy of AWEA)|
Part III of a three-part series: HEALTH, SAFETY, AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF WIND FARMS
February 22, 2009 (Boulevard) — Our country has jumped on a high-speed wind-energy bandwagon, as if the costs of developing and producing wind energy are as invisible as the wind itself. Are benefits commensurate with the costs? Can developers mitigate any risks and impacts? Our panoramic look at wind-farm issues continues, rendering potential fire risks, alleged health hazards, and environmental impacts of wind-development more visible, alongside wind energy’s better-known projected benefits.
Planet heating up while global economy in the deep freeze: green energy to the rescue
On February 17, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law. This legislation provides over $80 billion for clean energy technologies, green jobs, and many other important conservation advances and is intended to spur economic recovery.
We are desperate for clean energy, not just to salvage the economy, but because our quality of life depends on it. With this urgency, political winds are clearly blowing in wind development’s favor. All for the greater good, advocates assert—with plenty of carbon-crunching statistics to back it up.
The San Diego Foundation issued a “wake-up call” with its Focus 2050 Study, noting that our region is “uniquely threatened” by climate change: Within the next fifty years San Diego’s sea level will rise 12-18 inches, causing flooding; our climate will be hotter and drier, with severe water shortages; we’ll face more frequent and intense wildfires; public health will be at risk, especially for the elderly and children; plant and animal species will be lost forever; and we will not be able to meet our energy needs. The report says peak electricity demand will be up by more than 70 percent.
Wind an integral part of the solution
Experts say to avoid the worst dangers of global warming we need to reduce carbon emissions 80-90 percent by 2050. Using wind instead of coal reduces our carbon emissions 99%, using wind instead of gas reduces them 98%, according to AWEA.
With political will behind it, wind energy is clearly on the horizon.
Fire danger questioned
In a high-fuel loaded region, one spark and a little wind can ruin everybody’s day. Not to mention ruin life for animals that moved into East County after their own habitats burned in the recent wildfires.
Donna Tisdale, Chair of the Boulevard Community Planning Group warned her neighbors that turbines represent a fire threat, that they can burst into flame. The neighbors had come to Marie and Scott Morgan’s house to shoot the breeze, literally. They live next to a ridge in McCain Valley and the adjacent BLM lands, where Iberdrola Renewables, a wind developer, is seeking to erect a wind farm. The residents are not happy about giant, mechanical entities moving into their viewshed.
Leslie: “I didn’t realize the explosion danger.”
Donna: “And the blades shedding.”
Linda: “That last one, right next to the freeway, it’s all black and smoky.
Donna: “There was no answer to the shattered blade last year. We asked how far the fragments flew, and we did not get a response. That was the second one in from I-8.”
Tisdale has been criticized by wind-energy proponents for exaggerating the potential dangers of wind turbines. “She’s misrepresented the facts and used inflammatory rhetoric,” a local wind entrepreneur stated, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The fire damage is typically insignificant,” he claimed. “She uses data on old turbines. The statistical significance of a blade shatter on a modern turbine is about zero. The number of blades that come off modern turbines is very, very small. The risk of fire on the wind turbine is extremely low.”
Andy Linehan, Permitting/Environmental Director of Iberdrola Renewables, said Iberdrola is already running wind farms in very dry, fire-prone areas in the Western United States. The company keeps a water truck on site during construction, which is actually the most hazardous point. Jan Johnson, the company’s Communications Director, added that fire-fighting infrastructure is part of the picture once their turbines are out there.
As far as increased fire hazard, Linehan said, “If transmission lines aren’t well maintained, they’re going to increase fire risk. There have been times we’ve had problems with our transformers—but in the entire business, I know that there have been turbines that have had mechanical problems, had shorts, and have burned, but I don’t believe there’s ever been a case in the U.S., for any wind farm, where that fire spread beyond the immediate turbine area.”
Iris: “I look out my kitchen window at the [Campo] turbines and I say, ‘oh look, another breakdown.”
John: “Next thing you know they got a big crane out there. It takes 3 or 4 semis just to bring crane equipment out.”
John: “We have seen a blade that had shattered.”
Donna, pulling out a photo: “This is a 1600-foot debris field from a turbine that had shredded. From a study in 2007, in Germany: ‘Brakes on the turbines failed in high wind, causing the rotor to hit the tower at high speed, resulting attached parts flying off.’”
John: “Do they know how much wind we got out here?”
Marie: “I think we’re too windy for wind turbines.”
Donna: “They claim there’s better braking systems, but sometimes they can become overheated. On the Internet there was just one of an Iberdrola turbine in Spain that was on fire.”
In the 2007 wildfires, three of the seven blazes were sparked by arcing from SDG&E power lines, according to a Cal Fire report. The utility now faces lawsuits from the County, State, insurers, and homeowners. That there will be even more high-voltage lines in a highly fire-prone area with high winds raises burning questions. “That’s a legitimate criticism, I suppose,” said Alan Ridley, Professor at Cuyamaca College and proponent of wind energy. “They could underground more of them.”
Laurie Jodziewicz, Manager of Siting Policy with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), said “turbines have malfunctioned, there’ve been fires or other damages to the structure. But a lot of those things happened very early in the industry—they’re the so-called “legacy issue” of the earlier turbines. Today’s turbines won’t throw blades. The machine shuts down. Advanced electronics “talk” to remote sensors and protect the nacelle to minimize damage from any kind of failure.”
Johnson said that considering how many turbines are installed in the United States, fires are rare. “They tend to stay localized within the insulated nacelle. I don’t know of any incidents where sparks have been thrown off the nacelle.”
“Fires are usually related to lightening strike,” Jodziewicz pointed out, “so there’s a lot more protection now in the blades, themselves. Turbines are manufactured to very high accrediting standards. Nobody wants their investment to fail.”
|Wind turbine blade, Kumeyaay Wind Farm (photo by Leon Thompson)|
Michael Connolly of the Campo tribe, which owns the Kumeyaay Wind Farm nearby, refuted stories of flying or disintegrating blades. The worst that happened, he said, was that some of the fiberglass blades ‘delaminated,’ where part of the surface peels off. “It’s not a common thing,” he stated.
“There was a turbine next to the freeway last year where a delamination occurred,” he said. “They shut the turbine down, waiting for the winds to die down so they could remove the blade, but the wind got under the delamination and some small pieces got pulled away. They landed at the base of the turbine. Nothing went as far as the freeway.
“There was nothing that could burn there,” he said. “It’s just fiberglass, like the hull of a boat.”
Asked about potential fire danger, Connolly said, “It’s a machine. There can be fires. In our substation we had a fire one time. It’s in a cleared area; it didn’t start any fire outside the substation.”
Wind Turbine Syndrome: Health problems allegedly linked to wind farms
|Marie Morgan fears health effects from nearby Campo wind farm. (photo by Leon Thompson)|
Wind Turbine Syndrome is a constellation of ailments that Nina Pierpont, M.D., PhD, has been compiling for an eponymous book, not yet published. According to her research, some people, not all, who live near industrial wind turbines, can experience symptoms such as sleep problems (insomnia), headaches, dizziness, unsteadiness, nausea, exhaustion, anxiety, anger, irritability, depression, memory loss, eye problems, problems with concentration and learning, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), ear pressure, visual blurring, tachycardia, and panic episodes associated with sensations of internal pulsation or quivering which arise while awake or asleep.
Pierpont asserts that the symptoms are prompted by the sounds, which propagate farther at night, flickering shadows of the blades, chronic blinking lights, low vibrations, and the constant motion.
Iris: “Gee, I thought my problem was just old age.”
Some of the residents complained about some of these effects at their Town Hall meeting, noting that Iberdrola’s wind turbines will be even closer than the Campo windmills. Marie Morgan said she experiences unusual ear pain, now, a pressure that is intermittent, and other unusual symptoms.
Jerry: “Denmark refuses to put up even one more windmill because of health concerns. They’re ten years ahead of us.”
Linehan said, “There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence, but no scientific studies that have shown health effects from being close to wind energy. We’re all looking forward to seeing an academic peer-review of what Nina Pierpont comes out with. There’s no doubt that some people are more sensitive to wind turbines or any kind of a noise, than others.
“We have thousands who live around our turbines,” Linehan added. “Some find them annoying but the vast majority don’t. They find them less noisy than they expected.”
If such a thing as Wind Turbine Syndrome has yet to be proved, the folks in Boulevard will be living in a wind farm Petri dish, if all the projects proposed for the area go up.
“For people who didn’t want to see turbines, I think it’s likely they’re more physiologically sensitive to them,” Linehan said. We’ll have to comply with California noise standards, and I think we will very easily. But sometimes they will hear them more than others, sometimes not at all,” he said.
Iris: “You can feel how close my horses are going to be to this, and they’re gonna go bananas.”
Leslie: “I can feel the vibrations sometimes and it feels like a mild earthquake!”
Michael Connelly of Campo had a different take. He’s heard of the health effects but says they are minute. “Vibrations? I’ve never heard of anybody affected by them. You can’t even feel them, really. We have a tribal member that lives a third of a mile from the turbine. In the summertime, when her windows are open, she hears them. She says in the beginning it used to wake her in the middle of the night, because she’d think her washing machine was on. Once she got used to it, she said it was kind of like the noise of the ocean. She enjoyed it. Then she would wake up at night if they weren’t going.
“There are people who are sensitive to flicker,” Connolly said. “These are the same people who can’t work under fluorescent lights, and they’re a small portion of the population. The wind farm office is right underneath a turbine, so they get flicker, because the shadow of the turbine blades will go over their building. You get that darkness-brightness-darkness-brightness. The supervisor’s office gets the worst of it. The first day he thought, ‘oh, no, this is going to drive me crazy,’ but after the first day he just tuned it out.
“There are people who can’t tolerate that,” he said, but likened the majority of anticipated concerns to a sort of ‘turbine phobia.’ Tribal members living within a half or three quarters of a mile haven’t complained to him, he said.
“When the turbines are going the fastest is when the winds are the highest, so you can’t hear the turbines over the wind,” he added. “If people can’t stand the noise, why would they be living in one of the windiest areas in the county, the wind is just whistling through their trees, through their houses. The sound of the turbine blades isn’t grating, it’s a very soft whoosh-whoosh sound.”
Environmental impacts are for the birds
|Should BLM change its sign from “conservation area” to “utility corridor?” (photo by Gayle Early)|
The east side of McCain Valley Road is a designated wilderness area, and the residents on the west side have similar environmental restrictions to protect the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly, the black-tailed jackrabbit, and so on. (See State database for listed species.) Iberdrola will have to consider all these, not to mention avians in their flyway, when they clear the brush, scrape the ground, and asphalt in roads to haul and assemble its equipment.
Iberdrola expects to get the ball rolling by February, when the company launches into the national and state environmental impact reports (NEPA and CEQA), with opportunities for public input along the way. The company is already conducting butterfly and bat studies in the area.
East San Diego County is part of the larger Pacific Flyway for migratory songbirds like orioles, tanagers, warblers, finches, buntings, flycatchers; several migratory species of bats; and home to raptors like eagles, falcons, owls, and hawks.
“Different birds migrate in different ways,” said Philip Pryde, board member of the San Diego Audubon Society. “Larger birds, like hawks, for example, like areas where there is uplift from mountain ridges.” Swainson’s hawks have been migrating through in large numbers, and Cooper’s hawks are also an uncommon species riding the East County drafts.
Altamont Pass, in Northern California, makes bird lovers shudder. There, the world’s largest wind farm (5000 turbines on 50 square miles) kills 1,700 to 4,700 birds each year—over a hundred thousand estimated for the 27-year life of the wind farm, according to a report by Environment and Climate News.
Birds, some so critically endangered that federal law prohibits taking or killing even one, are hitting the Altamont shredder. The Audubon Society estimates as many as 50-60 golden eagles die in those turbines each year, sometimes as many as 100.
No one knew that would happen, which is why researchers like Dave Bittner, Director of the Wildlife Research Institute, and Mike Wallace, Zoological Society of San Diego scientist and California Condor Recovery Program team leader, are out in the field to document raptor nesting sites and habitation ranges before wind projects go up. The scientists have consulting projects with BLM, Sempra, PUC, the California Energy Commission, consulting firms, and industry as it works through the required environmental studies. They’ll be monitoring raptors for the McCain Valley as well as Sierra Juarez projects.
|Golden eagle (Photo by Dave Bittner, Wildlife Research Institute)|
One eagle Bittner tracked, using satellite telemetry, lived “not too far” from the proposed wind farm in McCain Valley. The fledgling stuck around East County for about eight months, then ventured north. “He flew through Altamont Pass and got killed there,” Bittner said.
“These birds can move long distances. A bird born here is not necessarily the one that’s going to get killed in that particular wind farm. He may go hundreds of miles away before he encounters one that’s not friendly.
“Eagles are like people in that way. They take four or five years to mature, until they’re old enough to breed. During those ‘teenage years’ they do a lot of stupid things. Some of them learn.” Many come back to the same area to breed, some even laying eggs in their parents’ nests, Bittner noted.
The wind industry points out that cats alone are responsible for a billion bird deaths a year. A National Academy of Science study estimated in 2006 that wind energy is responsible for three of every 100,000 bird deaths caused by human and feline activities.
The Audubon Society generally supports wind development, “as long as it can be done in a way that it won’t have an adverse effect on birds and bats,” said Pryde.
|California condor (photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo/CRES)|
It takes only one bird to capture everybody’s attention. Hitting the headlines a couple years ago, Condor No. 321 cruised into town, in a famous two-day fly-by in April 2007. When she left her release site in Baja, Mexico, GPS tracked her flight along the Sierra Juarez mountain ridge, over Jacumba, Rancho Cuyamaca State Park, and on into Anza-Borrego. It was the first time since 1910 a condor took a wild flight in San Diego County.
Hatched in the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, through the multiagency California Condor Recovery Program, the intrepid Condor No. 321 was released with a few others in the isolated Sierra San Pedro de Martír National Park, in Mexico, in 2005, just south of the Sierra Juarez mountains.
There were only 30 condors left in the wild in the 1980s, civilization slicing their count from the thousands. Conservation-breeding efforts have pumped their numbers to almost 300, with 153 condors now flying free, 18 of these in Baja.
Several of these released condors have swooped within 15 miles of the border as they explore the Sierra Juarez mountains, the very ridgeline where Sempra intends to install hundreds of turbines.
Yadira Galindo, spokeswoman for the San Diego Zoo, said “We’re evaluating the situation and we’ll keep a very close eye on the California condors.” All the birds are being monitored with GPS or VHF radio transmitters, and at any given moment they know the raptors’ location, altitudes, flying speeds.
If the condors released to our south hook up with those released in Central California and merge populations (no borders for them), as the Zoo’s Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES) anticipates, the endangered raptors will probably stay longer in local rural areas, particularly on boulders along the mountain communities.
Like the boulders in Boulevard?
Condors are better off than eagles, Bittner said, because most of the Condors bred in captivity and released have been conditioned to not land on electric poles. There’s also talk of installing a high-pitch sound on wind turbines that condors bred in captivity will have been conditioned to avoid.
Eagles are wild, on the other hand, and haven’t been to school.
“We have a dwindling, but healthy, population of golden eagles here,” said Bittner. “We have 46 pair remaining, down from 104 pair at the turn of the century. They live in cliffs and tree nests on high mountains and hunt in open chaparral and desert habitats, meadows and valleys.
“We know where all the eagles are nesting in San Diego County, he said, “but that doesn’t tell you where they’re flying every day.”
Our 10-year drought has compounded the problem of numbers, noted Bittner, “so they’re not reproducing as much. As the jackrabbit populations go up and down, so does breeding of the eagles. Out of ten pair out there, only one might produce a chick.”
That makes wind turbines a concern. “If you don’t have a lot of production of young, and you kill some of the adults, who’s going to replace them?” Bittner said. “You don’t have to kill very many to start eating at the whole population.
“Nobody has any answers,” Bittner pointed out. “Just lots of questions. We’re starting to see where the birds are moving, what areas are important for them, what the migration corridors are. Then we can help the industry decide where it’s appropriate to put wind farms and where it is not.
Bittner asserted that the wind industry is trying to minimize the impacts on bats and birds, recognizing it is a significant problem. “They’re doing studies on each and every site. Like Altamont, the capability for killing a lot of birds is there. All the research they’re doing is about trying to find out how to minimize it.”
Like Condor No. 321, Golden Eagle No. 97 was an intrepid explorer. Bittner told the story:
“We put a satellite tag on the bird near Lake Moreno. He flew down into Baja four different times. (We’ve had several birds go down and play with the California condors and come back to San Diego.) That same bird went on up into Mohave Desert, into Nevada, flew past Las Vegas all the way up to the Idaho border, hung out near Idaho for about two months, then turned around and came home. Then he went to Baja one more time, came back to hang around Otay Lakes for a couple weeks, and then went on north again. He went back to Nevada, came back to California, on over to the southern Sierras above Bakersfield, where he apparently flew into a high-tension wire, broke a wing, and died. Took him a year and a half to do all that. We think he was probably being harassed by ravens and wasn’t paying attention.
“We didn’t know, until recently, that these birds spent this much time traveling all over the western United States. Adults stay year-round on their territory, but the youngsters do move around a lot.”
|Golden Eagle (Photo by Dave Bittner, Wildlife Research Institute)|
Eagles cruise the terrain, hunting. With the smaller turbines, such as the older ones at Altamont Pass, the blades spin quickly, like a fan, making it hard to see the blades. “In their fixation on the prey they miss the fact they’re flying through a spinning blade and they get whacked,” said Bittner.
“Some of the newer blades are up to 97 meters in diameter, that’s an entire football field stuck up on the end,” Bittner said. “The bigger blades move a slower rate, but the tip of the blade, since it’s so large, is actually traveling at almost 200 mph. It looks, to us and to eagles, like it’s moving slow, so they assume they can fly right past it. But 200 mph comes around pretty quick. Eagles are capable of doing 200 mph in a dive, but they’re normally hunting at 30-40 mph.”
Bats and wind turbines don’t mix, either. Thousands of these flying mammals die near wind farms every year, the US Geological Survey stated. A few species hanging out in the McCain Valley area, of the 23 kinds of bats found in San Diego County, are registered as “species of concern.”
Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity said “it isn’t through direct impact that bats are harmed. They’re really good flyers, better than birds, because of their echolocation.” She said that researchers examining bats dead on the ground found that the cause of death was from their lungs exploding.
“Turbines cause a large fluctuation in adjacent air pressure and the pressure bursts the capillaries in the bats’ lungs. Just flying by the turbines is deadly for particular species that aren’t as large and robust as others,” Anderson said.
“It’s definitely a concern, where bats forage and where the turbines are going to be placed,” she added. “The habitat that you have up there for bats is really good, lots of little cracks and crevices for their maternity roosts and such. I’m not surprised there’s a diversity of bats in your area.”
Anderson also noted that wind farms aren’t as catastrophic for the slower moving ground critters, as a solar farm would be, “where they basically have to scrape the earth and not allow any habitat between facilities.”
Bittner agreed that we need alternative sources of energy, but with thousands of acres of solar panels in the desert: “You’ve got desert tortoises that will no longer have food supply, because all the shading is going to kill all the plants they eat. There’s nothing you can do that doesn’t have repercussions.”
Michael Connolly, of the Campo tribe, said they have found fewer than ten dead birds and one bat, since their wind farm’s inception in 2005.
However, Pryde cautions that “One thing to keep in mind when people say they’ve found very few dead birds on wind turbines? If a bird gets killed at night it’s probably going to be gone before morning. Unless you have people monitoring almost 24 hours, it’s extremely unlikely you’re going to get accurate records of bird deaths. At night you’ve got owls, in the day you’ve got hawks, coyotes, and other scavengers.”
That’s one of the problems identifying what the real mortality issues are, noted Bittner. Of nature’s efficient clean-up crew, “Predators like coyotes, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions figure out wind farms are a pretty good place to find dinner lying around. During the night they’re out there scrounging around, so if birds get killed one day, you wait until the next day to pick them up, oftentimes predators have already picked them up.”
|Bighorn sheep (photo courtesy of Todd Fibus)|
Desert and mountain areas near Boulevard are posted with signs about endangered species, no motorcycles, limited use, or no access. “It’s posted on every little rabbit trail that you can’t go out there,” Jerry Yops said, during the neighbors’ coffee klatch around the Morgans’ kitchen table in Boulevard.
Iris: “You wanna see the environmental report for the split we never got? The spotted butterfly [report alone] cost us twenty-three thousand bucks!”
Marie: “I learned as a kid, if you’re big enough, you’ve got the money, you’ll get by it.”
McCain Valley, lying a mile and a half from Anza-Borrego State Park, is still part of the bighorn sheep range. Yops recalled the Town Hall meeting in December 2008 with Iberdrola.
“I asked them if they planned to do any studies of the bighorn sheep on that ridge. They didn’t have an answer for that. It sounded like they didn’t have any idea there were bighorn sheep up there. They said, ‘We’ve never had a windmill hit a bighorn sheep.’
“That wasn’t funny to me. It was kind of a joke for them. I was really upset when they told me that. Those ridgelines run from I-8 all the way down to Palm Springs and have bighorn sheep in them. I’ve seen them on the freeway.”
Linehan explained, later, that the BLM reclassified many of the land use plans in the Western United States. When Iberdrola applied for their right-of-way grant, most of the McCain Valley, on the east and west sides of McCain Valley Road, were outside the “ACEC” (area of critical environmental concern), and were all available for wind energy. “There’s an ACEC for mountain sheep on the eastern side of McCain Valley, and that’s always been off-limits for wind energy,” he said on the phone.
Linda Shannan, her voice rising, told her story. How her horse-back-riding group tried to get permission to ride through a BLM and Anza-Borrego loop trail nine years ago, an outing they’d enjoyed once a year since the 1980s. She met with BLM, Anza-Borrego, and the Department of Fish and Game.
“We explained that we wanted to go one day a year. In September. The trail takes two hours on horseback. They denied us the permit because ‘we MIGHT disturb the bighorn sheep.’ One day. A year. Two hours. On a trail.”
Shannan consulted a biologist, who assured her that their 20 horses would not disturb those sheep, if they were even in the area. ‘They’re going to sit up there, look at you, look at another animal going by.’ Her group was still denied a permit for what would seem an exceptionally limited use.
“Now, what’s all this going to do to the bighorn sheep?” she wanted to know. Anza-Borrego refused her annual two-hour horse ride, she said, but the BLM next door is granting right-of-way to huge semis and heavy equipment with ostensibly little deliberation.
To test or not to test?
In the back country, the County permit allows any kind of testing tower or turbine of 80 feet or less, and only one turbine per lot. Wind developers seeking to install MET towers up to 200 feet must apply for a major use permit. County Supervisors Ron Roberts and Bill Horn are in favor of changing the zoning laws, and wind lobbyists, such as Brit Coupens of Invenergy, have their ear.
“These are billion dollar companies, and they are here in town complaining about having to spend $150,000 to put up to a 200-foot MET tower,” said Tisdale.
An administrative permit for installing the wind testing towers would cost $4000-$5,000. Wind proponents say the towers have no environmental impact.
“Industrial wind testing just opens the door for industrial wind development out here, so we’re fighting it,” said Tisdale. She expects to be outnumbered by wind proponents at the February 25 meeting.
“Some are asking for it by right,” she added. “Either way, we don’t want a bunch of blinking lights around the neighborhood, and we don’t want a bunch of towers. They’re talking about allowing them within 500 feet of each other.” (Taller towers will require warning lights for aviation safety.)
The economic crisis might provide the final say: it would cost the County hundreds of thousands of dollars to overhaul the ordinance, considering the environmental impact of such a revision, a planning commission staff member told ECM.
Jerry: “I think the consensus here is they need to produce their energy out there in the big cities and not out here in the back country.”
Leslie: “Would it cost $400 million to put in solar?”
John: “I think they’re disturbing too much wildlife.”
Jerry: “All this stuff they’re putting in, we get nothing out of it. Absolutely nothing.”
“There’s better compromises to use smaller turbines that give local benefits,” the local, anonymous expert conceded. “Donna has a point, they all have a point, that these large turbines sell their electricity to utilities, the utilities benefit in meeting their requirements, but the locals get no benefit out of it, they only get an eyesore.”
Campo Indians like their wind farm just fine
Michael Connolly asserted that not everybody in Boulevard hates the wind turbines. Other people he’s talked to say they don’t have any problem with it and know it’s doing some good for the tribe.
“We have the potential on Campo Reservation to do maybe 300 megawatts of wind generation.” That’s the equivalent of adding up to 125 more turbines to their current number of 25. The tribe is looking into feasibility but as yet has no plans in motion, said Connolly. “The tribe still has to approve it, and they may say ‘No.’”
Horror stories from the past recalled as Boulevard looks to future
Technology has changed since the first wind farm in California was installed in the 1980s, a development called Buckeye Wind Farm on Tierra del Sol Road, Tisdale’s neighborhood.
“Had a break failure in one of the high winds and the turbines ran out of control and started shedding blades. On occasion we had to pick debris out of the road to pass,” Tisdale recalled, having lived through Boulevard’s first wind farm. “I was told at the time that the blades flew over a mile.”
Worse, the 34-year-old owner of the farm was found dead at the base of one of his 40-foot wind turbines. Ridley said the man was decapitated. “He was trying to turn off the turbine in a rainstorm, and he couldn’t put the brake on from down below, so he climbed up the tower, and as he was climbing up there the wind turned on him and—got him.”
Modern turbines have come a long way since then. And the industrial-scale ones are giants of the industry—too tall for a hapless homeowner to scale.
Will our urgent need to curb global warming and need to shift to non-fossil fuel alternatives trump concerns over view corridors and environmental or potential safety issues with wind development? Will long-term benefits outweigh up-front costs, with wind being too vital a resource to let blow away? Do larger regional needs entail rural sacrifice—or are there better energy alternatives?
In a final bit of irony, Tisdale’s husband, Ed, hales from the hills of Tennessee. His family was evicted from their 2500 acres of land when the river that ran through it was damned and flooded by the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide hydroelectric energy, she said. Thirty years later, his old Indian granny (Ed is part Choctaw and Cherokee) was still living in her cabin on the hill without electricity. All the energy went to the cities.
“So much for promises,” Tisdale concluded.
Meanwhile the people of Boulevard continue to wage their “fierce and unequal combat.” Some are hopeful that the Obama administration may intervene, others are not so sure, as they prepare to tangle with the red tape. The Obama administration is big on green energy, but also respectful of individual rights, integrity of the environment, and due process. Whether the outcome will be as futile as the quintessential idealist Quixote’s tilting at windmills, however, remains to be seen.