San Diego County has issued a draft ordinance for publication review (http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dplu/ceqa/POD1007.html. ) But critics say the plan decimates rural community planning authority and makes it easier for large wind farms to be built across broad swaths of East County. Residents who already live near wind farms are speaking out—claiming they have suffered sleep deprivation and witnessed significant bird kills from existing turbines. They fear the impacts if multiple new wind farms are allowed to be erected across East County’s rural and scenic wilderness lands.
A summary of a draft environmental impact report makes clear that the County’s objectives include maximizing production of wind energy in unincorporated portions of the County. The ordinance would primarily impact East County, where the most wind resources are found. The ordinance would streamline the approval process for small turbines, allowing development of small turbines and meterological testing without a discretionary permit. It would also update regulations for large wind projects and allow them in areas classified as “fair” through “superb.” View the DEIR’s project description section: http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dplu/advance/docs/Wind/1.0_Project_Description.pdf.
Boulevard Planning Group Chair Donna Tisdale blasted the County for “taking the low road” on the Wind Energy Ordinance. “They are throwing our East County communities (Boulevard and Jacumba in particular) and the diverse people and wildlife that live and migrate through here, to the wind energy carpetbaggers that cloak themselves in the guise of green energy do-gooders—when they are anything but!” she wrote in an e-mail to ECM. “They have ignored all the professional reviews and other well-documented information we have provided, opening themselves up for potential lawsuits for their failure to protect at-risk resources.”
The Environmental Impact Report identified “adverse environmental effects that are unavoidable.” Supervisors will weigh whether to approve the ordinance, or consider project alternatives allowing differing degrees of wind development.
Tisdale called the move an “all-out-assault” funded by the wind industry and said rural residents lack financial deep pockets to fight back. “People are already sick near the existing Kumeyaay Wind turbines, reporting problems similar to wind turbine victims in many other impacted communities,” Tisdale added.
Boulevard resident Don Bonfiglio, a truck driver, lives three miles from the Kumeyaay Wind farm, where 25 turbines have been operating since 2005. “I am greatly impacted by those turbines and the noise and vibrations they generate,” Bonfiglio wrote in a June 2011 letter asking Robert Eben, superintendent at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to deny the proposed Campo Shu’luuk Wind Project proposed for one-third of the Campo Indian reservation land.
“If you approve it, ” he wrote, “you will be condemning many tribal residents and their neighbors to chronic sleep deprivation and the side effects that go with it, including many ill health effects..it is a form of torture…They keep me awake through the night…Who enforces the noise pollution? What are the rules? Who is liable?” He added, “Four out of seven days a week it sounds like helicopters are hovering over my house at 500 feet. The sounds resembles a Thermo King refer unit on a tractor trailer..This is a constant “hum” that doesn’t go away, day and night.”
At a meeting earlier this year, Bonfiglio learned that proposed new turbines would be even closer—less than two miles from his home. Bonfiglio said he visited the Kumeyaay Wind facility and spoke with an employee who told him the turbines get noisier as bearings wear out. His only peace and quiet since 2005 have come when he was away from home – and during a four month period in 2009 when all turbines went down during a storm for reasons that have never been explained, and had to be replaced.
Proponents contend that wind farms are needed to provide green energy from renewable resources, combating global warming and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. But opponents argue that wildlife and habitat destruction makes wind farms anything but green.
At the Kumeyaay Wind farm, Bonfiglio said he was horrified to see an employee throwing over a dozen large dead birds into a golf cart, including the largest horned owl he had ever seen. “I was so depressed by this I had an even harder time sleeping for days,” he wrote. “I was haunded by those dead birds and wondering how many other people and animals were suffering because of these turbines.”
Tisdale notes that the area has some of the last remaining golden eagles in San Diego County, along with other raptors, songbirds, and endangered bighorn sheep. Yet a Freedom of Information Act sent to the BIA asking for record on bird kills at the Kumeyaay Wind farm was denied on claims that the information is confidential. “Why?” asks Tisdale. “Because industrial wind turbines are killing too many birds!”
She is also outraged that “the County and industry/government cabal are also getting ready to gut the Boulevard Community Plan and the few protections they allowed us to retain.” That plan was approved only last month by the Board of Supervisors with the new General Plan. “Staff already ripped out part of our plan language back in 2009 at the request of Iberdrola,” she said, referring to a Spanish wind utility trying to build 134 turbines for Tule Wind in the McCain Valley, a National Cooperative Land and Wildlife Management and Recreation Area.
Industrial wind turbines are massive—around 500 feet tall, similar to the Great Pyramid of Giza in height. The wing spans for fan blades are comparable to that of a jumbo jet. Turbines can leak oil and have been known to cause fires in other parts of the world—a prospect that strikes fear into the hearts of residents in rural East County, already devastated by multiple serious wildfires.
Even more wind projects are planned for the vicinity. Invenergy wants to build 125 turbines on Campo tribal land. Enel Green Power seeks to erect approximately 80 turbines in Jewel Valley and McCain Valley, an area already impacted by Sunrise Powerlink. Pattern Energy has plans for a Kitchen Creek Wind project west of Campo in Cleveland National Forest, as well as in Ocotillo. Several large-scale solar farms are also planned for the area.
“Where will all these new transmission lines and substations be built? Will eminent domain be involved?” asks Bonfiglio, who is also concerned about electromagnetic radiation from high-voltage power lines planned along his property.
“The really sad thing is, none of this destruction is necessary,” Tisdale concluded. “All the renewable energy we need can be generated at or near the point of use and existing structures, including our own rooftops. But that doesn’t make any money for SDG&E or other major players, and there lies the crux.”