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Project’s demise gets energetic response in High Desert

The withdrawal of the application for the proposed North Peak Wind Energy project more than a week ago was seen as good news – very good news – by many desert dwellers and lovers.

The Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative and the Alliance for Desert Preservation each gave a hearty thumbs up after learning that E.ON Climate and Renewables had withdrawn its application to place 71 wind turbines – each as tall as 500 feet – on ridgelines in the Juniper Flats Recreation Area.

Lorrie Steely, founder of the Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative, called the news “pretty spectacular.”

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Rich Ravana, president of the Alliance for Desert Preservation, called it “great news.”

Ravana’s group said North Peak would have been disastrous for animals, birds and plants in the 10,433-acre project site, which would have stretched from Lucerne Valley to Apple Valley along north-facing ridges of the high Mojave Desert and San Bernardino Mountains.

Giant wind turbines are popping up in more and more locations around the country. We have a few here in the High Desert already, in Victorville and north of Apple Valley. The largest concentration in Southern California can be found near Palm Springs, where dozens of the white behemoths dot the landscape east of the Morongo Valley and act as a sort of unofficial entrance to the Palm Springs area. It is a jarring sight. Although they provide valuable renewable energy, their appearance looms as blight on the desert landscape.

Out of place

Though wind turbines have plenty of supporters, the best areas to locate them are near the coast, where ocean breezes can power them. But even then, they don’t particularly blend into the landscape. If you have been to Maui in the past few years, you’ll understand.

Wind turbines are not without their problems, either. Ditto solar. Chief among them is the limited storage ability of the U.S. grid. A Stanford study last year found that unless storage capabilities are found and expanded for wind energy, much of that energy produced at off-peak hours will be lost.

Matching demand

“For the grid to function efficiently, power supply needs to match power demand at all times, but with renewables, that’s not always the case,” Stanford’s Charles Barnhart, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar at the university’s Global Climate and Energy Project, told Mark Shwartz in the Sept. 9, 2013 issue of the Stanford Report.

“For example, wind farms sometimes produce too much electricity at night when demand is low. That excess energy has to be stored or used elsewhere. Otherwise it will be lost.”

Wind won’t store

The Stanford study concluded that storing excess energy in batteries for later use made sense for solar, but not for wind.

We don’t know what factors contributed to E.ON’s decision to withdraw its application for the North Peak project. Its demise will help to preserve the beauty of the Juniper Flats ridgelines, but Ravana is correct in saying more needs to be done.

“But we still need to take the next step,” he said in a written statement on Monday. “Juniper Flats has to gain National Conservation Land status. Without that, another developer could swoop in with a project as bad or worse than North Peak.”