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Windmill foes plan letter campaign

Wind-turbine opponents are meeting tonight to plot their next moves in their efforts to block windmills planned for south of Desert Hot Springs.

Oregon’s PPM Energy is proposing 45 wind turbines on 1,510 acres. Forty of the windmills would be on unincorporated land; the other five would be in Palm Springs.

Joyce Manley, who lives less than a mile west of the proposed windmills and is helping organize the meeting, said she and others tonight will encourage a letter-writing campaign asking county officials to nix the proposal.

“By the time it comes to the hearings, we want them to be inundated with all kinds of information and comments and reactions, so they have no doubt where we stand,” Manley said.

Supervisor Marion Ashley said he is undecided on the issue. He said the site is logical for turbines because of the heavy winds, the many windmills already in the area and the Southern California Edison power plant nearby.

Edison plans to buy the wind energy from PPM.

But Ashley said he is also considering residents’ concerns. “It becomes a balancing act,” he said.

Manley and other opponents of the project accuse county officials of being biased in favor of the wind turbines. She said the county deliberately released an environmental impact report on the turbines just before the holidays, when fewer people were paying attention.

In addition, she said that only people within a half-mile of the project were notified about it, even though far more people will see the wind turbines.

Ashley said the report was released last month because that was when it had been completed. The county followed state law in determining whom to send notices to, he said.

Last month, the Desert Hot Springs City Council voted 4 to 1 to oppose the turbines. Desert Hot Springs hopes to annex the unincorporated portion of the windmill site.

Attorney Steven Quintanilla is looking through the county environmental impact report on the turbines and said he already sees problems that could lead to a lawsuit against the project.

Quintanilla represents two Orange County men who are worried that the windmills would create blight that would ruin their plans to build housing and stores on 320 acres of nearby land.

PPM estimates that each of its planned 1-megawatt wind turbines would provide electricity to 300 homes, and that the entire project would power 13,500 homes. Opponents of the turbines say those estimates are exaggerated and misleading.

The Environmental League for Windmill Truth, a group of area residents and landowners formed last summer to oppose the windmills, says each turbine would power fewer than 75 homes. The group based its calculations on statistics compiled by the American Wind Energy Association and the California Energy Commission.

But commission spokeswoman Amy Morgan says the league is misinterpreting the state agency’s data.

The league used commission data to estimate that 172,500 homes statewide are powered by wind energy.

Yet the commission’s own 2005 report on wind energy states that wind creates enough electricity to power more than 530,000 homes.

Chuck Wolf, one of the league’s founders, said the group is “skeptical” of that number. He stands by the league’s estimates.

“The California Energy Commission should be unbiased,” the Orange County man said. “I’m not 100 percent sure they are.”

Wolf’s family owns 80 acres of land next to the proposed wind-turbine project.

The wind-energy association also says the league’s numbers are erroneous. The association estimates that each megawatt of wind energy typically powers 300 homes, association spokeswoman Susan Sloan said.

Morgan said the league’s figures ignore the increased efficiency of newer, larger wind turbines.

Wolf said that only about 10 percent of the energy generated by the turbines is actually converted into electricity.

The energy commission estimates that 30 percent to 40 percent of the energy from turbines like the ones being planned for near Desert Hot Springs is converted into usable electricity, Morgan said.

By David Olson
The Press-Enterprise