At least three wind turbines have been lost to a wildfire that has been burning since late last week in the Jawbone Canyon Recreation Area near Tehachapi, and additional turbines might be threatened.
The turbines belonged to NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc. based in Juno Beach, Fla. The turbines were part of the company’s Sky River Wind Project, a 75-megawatt wind farm comprising 327 turbines that NextEra purchased in 1991.
“Up until today, really, access to the site was limited, so we haven’t had a chance yet to do a full damage assessment,” spokesman Steven Stengel said Tuesday. He did not immediately know how much the lost turbines cost.
The region is home to several other wind projects, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Pine Tree Wind Farm.
Environmentalists have filed suit to prevent wind farm expansion in that area, worried it will harm the critically endangered California condor.
Linda Parker, executive director of the Kern Wind Energy Association, said she didn’t think the fire would hurt the industry’s long-term growth prospects in the region.
“You can’t control Mother Nature,” she said. “It’s out of our hands. But the mitigation efforts the industry undertook previously have been really helpful.”
Owners had cleared a lot of brush surrounding their turbines so that the fire was deprived of some of its fuel, Parker said.
“It’s very fortunate that because of the existence of the wind farms, firefighters have been able to get to areas they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to reach,” she said.
Ignited by lightning, the Jawbone Complex consists of two large fires – the Jawbone and Rim fires – and several smaller blazes. The wildfire started about 1 p.m. Friday about 20 miles north of Mojave near the Sierra Crest, and about 10 miles west of Highway 14.
The 10,078-acre fire was about 25 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Jim Wilkins, a spokesman for the multiple-agency team battling the wildfire. There are 964 firefighters and support personnel working to put it out.
Firefighters are working hard to protect the wind farms, Wilkins said, but it’s challenging.
“These things are situated in the worst area in the world to get to,” he said. “They’re right at the top of the ridges.”
The blaze is moving through fields that haven’t burned in at least 150 years, so there is plenty to burn, Wilkins said. In some spots there are walls of fire in excess of 200 feet tall.
“We’ve had thunderstorms coming in every afternoon, and they just push the thing around like liquid fire,” Wilkins said.
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