For the record, even though I chair the Boulevard Planning Group and head up the non-profit group, Backcountry Against Dumps, this opinion column is my own personal perspective. The pressure from industrial wind energy proponents is really cranking up in Eastern San Diego County. Multi-national firms, worth billions of dollars, and others, have targeted public, private and tribal lands in the Tecate Divide and Tierra Del Sol area of Campo and Boulevard for their hulking 40-50 story wind turbines. Other windy areas of the County will follow in time. Their coordinated behind-closed-doors lobbying efforts are apparently gaining ground with a majority of the Board of Supervisors. Their goal is to relax County regulations and streamline their efforts to industrialize rural landscapes, private lands, and communities, most of which are in Supervisor Jacob’s District 2. Absentee landowners, who care more about a few thousand dollars than impacts to a community they don’t live in, are joining the fray that threatens to change the face and character of rural East County.
A Board hearing will be held on February 25th to discuss removal of the current Major Use Permit requirement for the installation of Meteorological Test (MET) towers, up to 200 feet tall. Some claim MET towers are needed to study the viability of installing residential wind turbines, but the real goal is to take measurements for industrial scale wind projects. I strongly disagree with proponents’ claims that MET towers are a separate issue from industrial wind turbines. They are intrinsically connected.
The agenda item for POD-08-015 will also address the question of changing County regulations which currently restrict wind turbines to 80 feet in height. New turbines stand an average of 400-500 feet with some as tall as 600 feet. They are as tall as 40-50 story buildings with a blade span equal to the size of a 747 jet airplane. Along with the visual impact, turbines generate significant noise, health, environmental, and property value impacts. They also pose a real threat of wildfire ignition through the malfunction and overheating of various generator parts, highly flammable hydraulic fluids, fiberglass blades, transformers and other related infrastructure.
Iberdrola Renewables (formerly PPM Energy), a Spanish corporation, represented by Ed Clark an Andy Linehan, is getting ready to initiate the joint state and federal review process for their 200 MW Tule Wind project (130 plus turbines) on BLM land in the multi-use recreation area known as the McCain Valley Cooperative Land and Wildlife Management Area, the Lark Canyon OHV Park, and the Cottonwood Campground.
Massive turbines will also loom over abutting private property and residences on McCain Valley Road and Ribbonwood Road. Due to their location on the ridge line near the Carrizo Gorge, the Tule Wind turbines will also be highly visible over extensive geographic areas, including I-8, Historic Rt 80, Hwy S-2 and the Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
To secure the 20,000 or so acres they wanted, documents show that PPM Energy applied significant pressure to the BLM and Department of Interior to downgrade the area from pretty to ugly. Governor Schwarzenegger helped them. In the forced process to change the land use to industrial zoning, multiple federal regulations were violated including the Administrative Procedures Act. A law suit will be filed against the BLM soon.
Invenergy, LLC, based in Chicago, represented by Brit Coupens and local consultant Rich Volker, is one of the main instigators behind POD-08-015. They have secured several easement agreements with absentee land owners in the Tierra Del Sol area, and made presentations to groups like the Campo Gentlemen’s Club. If the agreements are the same as the unsolicited Invenergy agreement turned down by me and my husband, in exchange for about $14,000, they allow for the installation of MET towers, turbines, substations, transmission lines, communications facilities, roads, and more – all things that are not currently allowed under existing County regulations and zoning without major changes.
The Campo Band is looking at the potential for another 100 turbines/300 MW on their tribal lands, according to a 2008 power point presentation by Michael Connolly Miskwish, a tribal Councilman at that time. The map shows the potential for turbines both north and south of I-8, both east and west of Church Road, BIA Route 10 and 15, and near the Shockey Truck Trail area. Connolly’s figures would require 3-MW turbines which stand about 600 feet tall. Their 25 existing 2-MW turbines (325 feet tall), at Kumeyaay Wind near their Golden Acorn Casino, already had one giant blade shatter near I-8. We have not received an answer to how far the pieces flew.
Experiences at other wind turbine projects indicate debris can be flung great distances. Impacted off-reservation neighbors say the thumping, groaning noise and vibrations are irritating and pose problems. The visual impacts of the turbines themselves and the blinking strobe and red night lights required by the FAA, will be vastly multiplied. While wind energy represents income for the tribe ($300-400,000 annually) some members are reportedly not happy with the prospects for expansion.
Scott Debenham of Debenham Energy, LLC has applied for 1-3 MET towers on Cleveland National Forest Land near the La Posta area. He has asked for fast-tracking and appears to be working closely with absentee private property owners south of I-8, including George Coldonato. Sempra Energy is working on their 1,250 MW Energia Sierra Juarez wind energy project, and others, encompassing 60 miles of prominent ridge line, owned by various communal ejidos, starting at Jacumba.
Hamann Companies, absentee owners of 2,000 plus acres in Boulevard represented by John Gibson, has also joined the push for industrial wind turbines, falsely claiming in an e-mail to BLM that the area “is unpopulated.” Court documents, in a 2008 dispute between partners, also show that Greg Lansing of Lansing Companies, absentee owners of approximately 7,900 acres of Boulevard land, was party to $12 million agreement with SDG&E for wind energy projects. Current status unknown.
Wind energy is not the cure all it is advertised to be. Due to the intermittent nature, industrial scale wind energy produces an average of 10-21% of the installed capacity (wind advocates claim 30%), requiring back up generation of 80-90%, which is usually natural gas. The cap and trade process which allows so-called clean energy projects, like wind, to sell green energy credits to more polluting projects results in the displacement of green house gas emissions – not the removal of them.
Sempra Energy, SDG&E’s parent company has invested billions in extensive LNG gas infrastructure in Baja with cross border connections, and stands conveniently ready to provide (sell) the necessary back up generation. While converting our energy production to renewable sources is a noble and worthy goal, now required by law, we need to do the proper research and take our time to weigh all the claims made by the proponents of various projects against the reality of the cumulative impacts and associated costs involved.
Some legitimate cost/benefit analysis need to be done by non-biased third parties. Utilities Consumer Action Network estimated the combined cost of the Sunrise Powerlink and proposed renewable projects at over $27 billion, which will be paid through utility rate increases to the consumer. And the promises of green energy jobs often go to imported labor, as was reportedly the case for the installation of the Campo Kumeyaay turbines and other major renewable projects.
The rush to wind energy, and the extensive expensive transmission lines required, is similar to the rush to generate ethanol from corn and other food crops, and the use of now banned MTBE as a fuel additive to reduce vehicle emissions. Both resulted in costly unforeseen negative impacts which raised the cost and availability of food crops and the contamination and condemnation of priceless groundwater resources.
It is always important to follow the money in order to understand the motivation for various claims and promotions. Wind energy receives significant tax-payer funded subsidies (more than 50 times that of coal subsidies), and tax credits. They also get to sell renewable energy credits to projects that generate more green house gas. The new federal bailout plan actually provides grants to cover 30% of the costs of renewable projects instead of the previous tax credit. Iberdrola reportedly lobbied heavily for this change because they did not owe enough US taxes to make a credit worth their while. Bigger is not always better.
There is a better way to generate renewable energy at, and close to, the point of use that does not require extensive use of eminent domain, the wholesale transformation of our scenic open spaces, public lands, and rural communities. Property owners can now use the new 30% tax credit to install small scale wind turbines and solar panels on our homes to generate our own power. The County is also working out plans to provide low interest renewable energy loans that can be paid back through annual property tax bills.
If California passes Feed-In-Tariffs, like we enjoyed in the early 80’s before the utilities killed them, then we can sell any excess energy back to the grid at fair market value. The same will be true for public buildings, schools, churches, factories, warehouses and more. The ability to sell energy back to the grid will also encourage people, agencies, and companies to conserve energy so they will have more energy to sell. In the end, it is all a matter of cost, perspective, and political will–which will be influenced by big energy interests and public involvement.
by Donna Tisdale,
The Alpine Sun,