By Miriam Raftery, Editor, East County Magazine
May 3, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) Updated May 7, 2013 – On Wednesday, May 8, San Diego County Supervisors will vote on legislation that could have devastating impacts across East County and the entire San Diego region.
At stake is a proposed wind ordinance that could open wide vast tracts of East County for industrial wind development, putting residents across our County at risk of a catastrophic wildfire or deadly Valley Fever spores that can blow 70 miles or more. There are many more reasons to oppose this ordinance, as well as the proposed gutting of Boulevard’s community plan, but these are two of the most compelling. These and other disturbing facts are detailed below.
If you share these concerns, it's important to contact all five Supervisors. It's especially important for San Diego residents to tell their Supervisors that you care about what happens to East County, since some Supervisors have shown an arrogant disregard for public health and safety outside of their own districts. Of course, a wildfire that originates in East County and burns into San Diego, or deadly Valley Fever spores that blow into urban areas, should clearly be of concern to all County residents and their representatives. You can contact Supervisors here and scroll down to learn more. It's also important to show up and speak out at Wednesday morning's meeting at 9 a.m. at 1600 Pacific Coast Highway, Room 402.
My degree is in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. I support efforts to shift our nation to cleaner, renewable fuels. But these projects are not green. We have spent years investigating the dark side of wind energy, since some of the earliest wind projects were in our region as well as one of the largest wind projects on public lands. What we've found is, quite simply put, alarming.
An attorney for the Rural Fire Protection District has warned that the District is not prepared to battle a fire that starts at a wind project, where each turbine contains hundreds of gallons of flammable fuel oil. Firefighters can’t drop fire retardant over turbines due to the height and it’s too dangerous to battle fires beneath the multi-ton blades. So a fire would have to burn out of the wind project, posing potential for a catastrophic wildfire similar to the Cedar Fire.
Retired Cal-Fire Battalion Chief Mark Ostrander has also warned of this severe fire hazard posed by wind turbines. Not only can turbines explode from malfunctioning, they also act as lighting rods. This area had over 1,000 lightning strikes in a single weekend last year. The industry claims fires are rare but that is misleading. Wind turbines have started wildfires, two in California just last summer. A wind turbine explosion in a Maine Forest would likely have been catastrophic had it not occurred during winter snow.
Our region has the nation's highest risk of severe wildfire already. Boulevard lost around 14 homes and a life in the 2500 acre Shockey fire in 2012 with only mild winds, moist conditions and no other fires burning n the county. Why is there no provision to keep these projects out of an area that has the nation’s highest fire risk ratings especially if so remote that firefighters can’t even reach existing fires in time, or out of box canyons where people (residents, campers, hikers etc) could be trapped if a fire occurs?
View a video of warnings given by Mark Ostrander, retired Cal-Fire battalion chief for this area, on dangers and see highlights of his recent remarks below.
“Anyone who was around for the Shockey Fire, that was not a high fire danger day. That was a drizzly, cool westerly flow,” he said of the blaze that destroyed 14 homes and killed a Boulevard resident last year. “We saw how fast that traveled through that brush. Now picture that in a Santa Ana. We all remember the 2003 and 2007 fires,” he said, then warned that volunteer fire departments are not prepared to battle blazes that erupt at wind and solar facilities.“We do not have full-time fire protection out there,” he added emphasizing that volunteer firefighters are not prepared to battle blazes at the big energy facilities.
Firefighters can’t fight fires under wind turbines and airdrops can’t be done above 500-foot tall turbines, since retardant must be dropped 150 to 350 feet above a fire; the higher the drop, the less effective. He said firefighters would have to wait for the fire to burn out of the wind or solar facilities – hundreds, even thousands of acres. ““The bigger the fire, the harder it is to put out,” he emphasized, adding that this region is rated the very highest fire risk severity in the nation.
There are also grave and growing health concerns swirling around wind energy.
Valley Fever is now at epidemic proportions across the southwest, the Center for Disease Control recently warned. Over 150 cases have been reported in San Diego County in recent years. Wind projects, like big solar projects, scrape bare thousands of acres, creating horrific dust storms and potentially releasing Valley Fever spores that can prove deadly. A judge recently ordered California to shut down two prisons due to 36 deaths from Valley Fever. The spores can blow 70 miles, authorities have found. Just today, the Los Angeles Times reports an apparent link between Valley Fever and large solar facilities. (Update: The WAll Street Journal has now published a story titled "California's Solar Plague" on this danger. The Los Angeles Times reported on April 30 that Valley Fever has sickened 28 workers at two large-scale solar facilites under construction in San Luis Obispo County. The L.A. Times warned that "The threat of acquiring the respiratory illness extends to residents living near expansive construction sites. That risk is rising given the scope of the renewable energy boom centered in the state.”
In Ocotillo, an industrial wind project turned the valley into a Dust Bowl, as ECM has documented. These conditions continue even after the project construction is over. Looks at this video taken yesterday by resident Jim Pelley, an award-winning videographer, showing high particulates residents are forced to breathe:
Stray voltage/dirty electricity that has been measured at 1,000 times normal in homes where people are ill near the Campo tribe’s existing turbines. http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9439 . A preliminary health study done at Cal State San Marcos found symptoms consistent with wind turbine syndrome in Manzanita tribal members near these turbines and experts have found extremely dangerous conditions in their homes. There are also numerous cases of cancer among this small population of tribal members including brain, stomach and kidney cancer as well as a large tumor removed from the abdomen of a toddler living close to the turbines. These are consistent with health problems associated with excessive exposure to electricity and there is a substation and high-voltage lines nearby tied to the wind project, yet more turbines are proposed even closer to homes in this area and neighboring communities. Dr. Millham, who took the measurements in Campo had a similar situation at a school with high EMFs; when they were reduced, blood levels of children proved neurotransmitter levels changed dramatically and attention deficit disorders went away, he has testified.
Shouldn’t it be mandatory to protect public health by requiring that excess voltage not be dumped into the ground, but travel on wires to/from substations and that if high voltage measures are found inside nearby homes or public buildings, campgrounds etc., the developer should have to reduce those to safe levels or shut down the turbines?
Setbacks of just 1.1 times the height f the turbine won’t protect anybody if a turbine collapses, throws off a blade, or even hurls off ice from the blades. (The latter cut a man in half elsewhere). Some of those accidents are described here: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9238
There are also issues of infrasound, noise, etc. that close. Many jurisdictions now require at minimum half a mile or better yet, one or two miles from large turbines In Ocotillo, even with minimal winds where production is questionable, people half a mile and more away are complaining of headaches, earaches, etc, and worse in Campo where winds are higher. A Nevada judge recently ruled a single wind turbine constituted a nuisance. Surely multiple massive wind facilities, each with hundreds of turbines, would be deemed a nuisance for any one of the reasons stated here.
Supervisors are putting taxpayers at high risk of a lawsuit over not only health harm and wildfire damage, but also destruction of Native American sacred sites.
Last week the Native American Heritage Commission ruled Ocotillo’s wind site is a sacred site and found the federal and Imperial County governments erred in approved the project. They are asking the state Attorney General to weigh a lawsuit and made clear that commissioners believe the turbines should be torn down. Does our County really need more litigation, potentially enormous liability, and the disrespect of Native Americans? The areas proposed for wind energy in East County are also rich in cultural and sacred sites; I have personally accompanied a Native American search dog team that alerted to ancient human remains. There are also ceremonial sites and more on these lands.
These turbines are also incompatible with the rural lifestyle and wildlife habitat areas.
Lighting is one major issue, and the industry has a pattern of deception here. In Ocotillo, promises were made to residents that lights would only come on if aircraft approached. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5zgBX74T6Q That technology is available: Vestas supplies its first turbines with intelligent aviation lights, reducing the visual impact of wind power plants ;. Instead Ocotillo got red lights flashing on and off all night long. I have been to Boulevard and seen that homes will have lights flashing directly into windows based on proximity to some of the proposed wind projects. Here is what it would look like, and also a video of shadow flicker, another issue with so many turbines close to homes: View video of shadow flicker. View video of flashing lights. (they get worse as video progresses). View lights as seen through ECM photographer Jim Pelley's home windows. (He has this in windows on ALL sides of his home, there is no escape short of black-out blinds. Is that reasonable where temperatures exceed 100 degrees and some don’t have air conditioning in East County?
How come health of residents, livestock and wildlife is desregarded? There was a lot of testimony before the Planning Commission on this, even a woman who came from Canada to talk about 200+ people who are ill up there, some of whom abandoned their homes without compensation. In Brown County, Wisconsin, I interviewed health officials who asked the state to compensation wind farm neighbors who had to abandon homes due to health problems. Setbacks were much farther there than are proposed here. Here are some details on problems elsewhere including Wisconsin with links to Brown County health officials’ recommendations; I am very surprised that Dr. Wooten didn’t make similar recommendations here: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9425
The federal government recently began issuing “take” permits and even allowed nest for endangered or threatened species. Take permits are being issues by the feds for eagles and bighorn sheep (this was done in Ocotillo and is expected to be done at Tule, and possibly the other local projects); nest removals are being allowed at Tule Wind for raptors also. The federal government has delisted project sites as critical Bighorn Sheep habitat despite clear presence of these very endangered animals -- and several more wind projects are proposed in the sheep's habitat in East County.
There also is no plan to compensate rural residents for loss of property values, despite evidence that wind projects lower property values 40% on average up to several miles away. Property losses could be much higher if there are projects on all sides as is the plan for some areas of Boulevard. http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9182 The wind industry’s claim that there is ZERO property value reduction is simply not credible. This amounts to a taking of private property, much as occurs when a freeway is built. Why isn't the County protecting the financial interests of its residents?
Sources in Boulevard and Ocotillo have told me that people living near wind projects there can’t sell their homes. I also got an e-mail from a reader who backed out of a sale after learning about all the big energy projects planned in the Boulevard area. Where is the equal protection for residents, particularly since this is a low-income community predominantly that is supposed to be a consideration under CEQA per a CA Attorney General ruling?
What about the cumulative impact of multiple projects close together in East County, Imperial County and Baja just over the border from these projects?
Beautiful, scenic and formerly protected lands are among those slated for destruction. There are campgrounds that will be rendered virtually unusable. In addition the turbiones slaughter birds such as eagles; Altamont Wind Farm alone has killed thousands of Golden Eagles. The impacts on ground-dwelling animals are not known; nobody has studied that.
Finally, who is determining if wind developers are truthful in their estimations of wind speeds? In Ocotillo videos for the past four months show no or almost no wind most days. The wind developer submitted data for less than one year, but had testing towers up for three years. Photographers and an engineer in Ocotillo have been documenting the numerous days over months now with virtually no wind. Did the project developer falsify records to get those federal tax subsidies? We can’t be sure because full date from the wind testing tower is apparently a federal secret – the government refuses to disclose it. The project developer has made inflated claims of wind speeds and homes to be powered, claims that cannot possibly be true since some are higher than power production at the windiest wind proejects in the world. Ocotillo ranks a class 2 out of 7, 7 being the highest.
Nor is there any requirement for developers to disclose how much fossil fuel is used to manufacture turbines in coal-fired plants, ship them from overseas or other distant areas, bulldoze, blast, and build the turbines, substations, and remote power lines. We are told that they don’t produce enough power so we must also have gas-powered peaker plants like the one proposed by Mission Trails for when the wind doesn’t blow –which in our region, is most of the time. When it is windy, it’s often too windy and turbines must be shut down. They also blow apart in storms – as happened in Campo, where every blade on every turbine had to be replaced and the project was offline for months.
There is a much better way to meet our region’s energy needs without this insanity.
Mayor Filner and the City of San Diego are promoting rooftop and parking lot solar in the urban areas where power is used. The San Diego Energy Foundation has a plan to incentivize more people to install rooftop solar and sell surplus power to those who need it. Other sensible steps, such as more mass transit and conservation, can further reduce demand for energy. Small-scale vertical axis wind turbines for personal use also make sense; they don’t kill birds and are modest in scale.
Massive industrial-scale wind turbines, however, carry far too many risks for minimal if any gain, and at disproportionately great expense to backcountry residents.
East County Magazine urges Supervisors to outlaw industrial-scale wind turbines in San Diego County. The negative and potentially catastrophic impacts are so severe that it is unconscionable to give these further consideration—particularly here in one of the sunniest regions nationwide, where solar in the already-built urban areas, solar on rooftops countywide, conservation and other sensible solutions can meet our region’s energy needs without putting the lives and well-being of residents and wildlife at risk.
We also urge that Boulevard's plan be preserved. This is an area where people bought homes with the expectation of maintaining zoning that limited development to one house per 80 acres. The County should not gut a plan that a community spent many years creating in order to turn that community into an industrialized region, over the unanimous objections of Boulevard's Community Planning Group. If this is allowed to occur, no resident in any unincorporated area can ever feel truly safe.
Read a summary of changes from the earlier draft ordinance.
View a map of proposed wind resource areas in San Diego County.