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Desert valley could see wind turbines

A federal agency is proposing to open up thousands of acres of McCain Valley for wind turbines, a prospect troubling environmentalists who say the pristine desert in San Diego County’s backcountry should remain undisturbed.

The federal Bureau of Land Management included the proposal in a draft resource management plan covering more than 103,000 acres in eastern San Diego County from Boulevard to Julian. The agency is accepting comments on the draft plan until May 31.

The bureau is updating the management plan, which was written in 1981, because it doesn’t include areas federally designated as wilderness or habitat for the endangered peninsular bighorn sheep and the Quino checkerspot butterfly, said Tom Zale, an associate field manager for the agency.

Five alternatives are being considered in the updated plan, ranging from one that emphasizes conservation to another that greatly opens the area for commercial and recreational use. The BLM says the preferred alternative strikes a balance between preserving natural resources and allowing some use.

The proposal that has drawn the most concern calls for opening 7,059 acres in western McCain Valley for wind energy. Environmentalists fear the wind turbines will destroy the stark beauty of the landscape dotted by massive boulders and chaparral.

PPM Energy, a wind energy company based in Portland, Ore., has four testing towers in place to determine whether enough wind is available to install turbines. Two towers are in McCain Valley, another is on Shockey Truck Trail in Campo, and a fourth is south of Table Mountain near Jacumba.

The management plan must be completed before any requests to install wind turbines will be considered, Zale said. Any request for turbines at a specific site would require an environmental report and a full review by the federal agency, he said.

Terry Weiner, a conservation coordinator for the Desert Protective Council, said her group favors the management alternative that emphasizes conservation. She said she fears wind turbines will destroy the serenity of McCain Valley.

“It could completely transform the area from a wild and scenic gem,” Weiner said. “It’s wild and beautiful. That would all become industrialized.”

David Hogan, conservation manager for the Center for Biological Diversity, said he favors greater use of wind to provide energy but that other spots should be found for the turbines.

“There will be some places like McCain Valley that are too sensitive and too sacred to sacrifice,” Hogan said. “McCain Valley is the wrong place for wind development.”

Donna Tisdale, chairwoman of the Boulevard planning group, said some residents of the backcountry community are upset that they weren’t given more notice about the bureau’s plans to consider allowing wind energy. She said wind turbines don’t belong in McCain Valley.

“We get rock climbers, hikers, campers, photographers, stargazers, bird watchers, you name it,” Tisdale said. “It’s incredibly scenic, and it has these vast, panoramic views that are uncluttered even by utility lines.”

A wind turbine, which can be as tall as a 20-story building, has blades that slice through the air like a giant pinwheel. It uses wind to make electricity that can be sent through transmission lines to homes and businesses.

Development of wind power has boomed, supported by the Bush administration’s national energy policy encouraging the development of renewable energy resources. In California, a requirement that utilities derive 20 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2010 is driving the market for wind energy.

In San Diego County, 25 wind turbines went into operation in late 2005 along Interstate 8 on the Campo Indian Reservation. The project produced 120 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in its first year ““ enough to power 20,000 homes.

Zale said comments submitted to the Bureau of Land Management will be studied, and a decision will be made by the bureau’s state director in the fall.

By Anne Krueger
Union-Tribune Staff Writer

BLM plan comments

By mail: BLM El Centro field office, ESDC RMP team lead, 1661 S. Fourth St., El Centro, CA 92243

By e-mail: caesdrmp@ca.blm.gov

Deadline: May 31

To view the plan on the Web: www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/


15 May 2007