December 8, 2006

Residents gather to organize against more desert windmills

To Oregon’s PPM Energy and Southern California Edison, the 45 wind turbines proposed for south of Desert Hot Springs are an environmentally responsible way to generate electricity.

To nearby homeowners and to developers with land in the area, the windmills would be visual blights that would block mountain views and hurt property values.

About 75 people gathered at a Desert Hot Springs community center Thursday night to start organizing against the wind turbines, which would be built near hundreds of other windmills.

“Enough is enough,” said Desert Hot Springs resident Judy Shea. “It was cute to have some windmills here and there. But this is ridiculous.”

Forty windmills are proposed for unincorporated land north of Dillon Road between Highway 62 and Indian Avenue. The other five are planned for land to the south of Dillon in Palm Springs.

The windmills, which would occupy 1,510 acres, would provide electricity to 13,500 homes daily during the four months of the year they would be running, Jan Johnson, spokeswoman for PPM, said by phone before the meeting.

The area east of the San Gorgonio Pass is one of the windiest areas in California and ideal for wind turbines, said Christopher Copeland, operations manager for Wintec Energy Ltd., a Palm Springs company that plans to lease land to PPM for a substation and grant an easement for power lines. Wintec operates 250 turbines in the area, which already is home to 4,800 windmills, he said.

The area is hardly pristine, Copeland said, as he stood before the meeting in the desert where the wind turbines would stand, gazing at an Edison substation, power lines, smog and hundreds of windmills in the distance.

But the 327-foot-tall turbines would tower above many of the existing windmills, blocking views for existing and future residents and annoying people with blinking lights necessary to warn aircraft, said Desert Hot Springs Councilman Hank Hohenstein.

He plans to introduce a City Council resolution opposing the wind turbines, which he said would decrease property values. The turbines would also block development efforts that would add tax dollars to support city services, he said. Desert Hot Springs had hoped to annex the windmill site and land to the north, Hohenstein said.

Attorney Steven Quintanilla said he is combing through PPM’s recently completed environmental impact statement, and through PPM’s request for zoning variances and a change to the county’s general plan, for potential problems that he could use to block or delay the project.

His Orange County clients, Danny and Julien Chen, bought 320 acres just north of the windmill site about 15 years ago, Julien Chen said. The brothers are planning a mix of housing and stores for the site, but they may nix the proposal if the wind turbines are built, Julien Chen said.

“Are you going to buy a house that’s next to a windmill?” he asked.

Steven Hernandez, board assistant to county Supervisor Marion Ashley, whose district includes the site, said the supervisor generally supports windmills, but he has not decided whether to support PPM’s proposal.

The project would be on land owned by Southern California Edison. PPM would sell the energy to the utility, helping it meet a state requirement that 20 percent of all energy by 2010 come from renewable sources, Stuart Hemphill, director of renewable and alternative power for Edison, said by phone before the meeting.

But resident Joyce Manley, who said the windmills would mar her views, said, “We get no benefit from anything that is generated. It just goes into the grid.”

The pass is a major migration route for birds, said Jeff Morgan, vice chairman of the Sierra Club’s Tahquitz group. He said in an interview before the meeting that he has heard anecdotal reports of many bird deaths in the wind-turbine area. The Sierra Club opposes the project until there is a thorough, independent study on the effect wind turbines in the area have on birds, he said.

Copeland said some birds die by running into windmills, but they also die by flying into power lines, fences, trees and other objects in the area.

By David Olson
The Press-Enterprise
Reach David Olson at 760-837-4411 or

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