- National Wind Watch: Wind Energy News - https://www.wind-watch.org/news -

Towers go up to test hills for wind farm

PIONEERTOWN – While Basin citizens organized in gynasiums and community centers to defeat Green Path North, a wind-power project was silently moving through the permitting process with the Bureau of Land Management.

This month, the Black Lava Butte project popped into the public view as the first two of four 200-foot masts became visible over Pipes Canyon Road. The towers will monitor the weather up there for a company looking for an ideal spot for a farm of 400-foot-high wind turbines.

That company, Element Environmental, has launched a three-year feasibility study for the project, which would cover 4,000 to 6,500 acres of right-of-way in Pioneertown.

A planning company studying the wind farm for the Bureau of Land Management, Sapphos Environmental, declared in February 2008 that the project would have “no cumulative effects on areas of critical environmental concern.”

“The study done on behalf of BLM was white-washed,” Pioneertown resident Cherry Good declared in her presentation to the Homestead Valley Community Council meeting Monday. “This is how BLM kept it quiet and pulled the wool over our eyes, because if an environmental assessment is issued stating no significant impact, there is no legal need to inform anybody. No one knew about this two-stage project, not the environmental associations, not the Wildlands Conservancy at Pioneertown Mountains Preserve, none of the local conservation authorities and associations.”

The study period will run until September 2013, but Good warned the current project owners can apply for the full wind farm at any time.

“Major access roads will be needed, and Pipes Canyon would basically be torn up. There will be the transport of heavy equipment and hazardous materials and waste through our desert roads, which they will widen and blacktop. It’s possible they will be dynamiting through the volcanic rock,” Good warned. “Each 40-story turbine requires a minimum of ten redi-mix truckloads of concrete just to form the base. The blades are up to 180 feet long, and each turbine will be required to be well-lit with warning lights. There will be dozens and dozens of wind turbines on Black Lava Butte and Flat Top. It’s also likely that collector lines will be overhead, as well as power lines going through our communties.”

HVCC President Jim Harvey explained that the right-of-way would be designated specifically for the purpose of renewable energy, and the project could literally be fenced off.

Good agreed. “In the guidlines for the Black Lava Butte project, the BLM requires the whole wind farm to be fenced. Worst case scenario is that our land would be taken by eminent domain.”

Alan Rasmussen, field representative for 3rd District County Supervisor Neil Derry, was present at the HVCC meeting. Rasmussen reminded Good and her concerned listeners that they have a friend in the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.

“The base would not want those towers and lights with their aircraft flying up there,” Rasmussen said. “In addition, any solar or wind project in the Southwestern United States has to get the approval of the Department of Defense, and the person in charge of that is at Camp Pendelton. Our man at our local base works closely with him.”

To combat the Pioneertown wind farm and similar projects, Good has created the Save Our Desert organization. The website, www.saveourdesert.com, includes a form letter to download addressed to Mickey Quillman, BLM chief of resource at the Barstow Field office.

“I know how upset these people are,” Quillman said when reached for comment.

When a proponent such as Element from Portland, Ore., comes to the BLM to install a meteorlogical testing facility, “I can’t refuse them as long as their application has an environmental study and they can pay the $2-per-acre rent,” he explained.

Quillman noted that Element’s application for the towers showed “no significant disturbance” to biological or cultural resources, and the company was granted a “categorical exclusion” to expedite the project.

The BLM chief said Senator Dianne Feinstein has issued instructions to the expedite wind and solar testing projects.

“If the project wants to go ahead, it will require rigorous environmental studies for biologic, visual, cultural and economic impacts,” Quillman said. “There will be extensive public notice, public comment, public input and public scrutiny.”