United States

United States

Ride the air on a wind farm tour, active PR in San Gorgonio

Guided tours of the San Gorgonio Pass wind farms have been unexpectedly successful. They are meant to last 45 minutes, but often run for more than an hour because people have so many questions. Some 1500 people, from school children to senior citizens, have taken part since February.

Motorists speeding along Interstate 10 near Palm Springs are these days beckoned by billboards admonishing them to take part in what is the first public wind farm tour in America. "Wind Farm Tours Next Exit" read the billboards -- and exit is just what the motorists do. Some 1500 people, from school children to senior citizens, have taken part in guided tours of the San Gorgonio Pass wind farms since February.

Not only do they get to look at wind farms, but also the chance to try the benefits of wind energy at first hand. The whirlwind $18 tours of a Wintec wind farm are in golf-carts, with batteries charged with wind power from KVS 33 turbines. Another version of the tour is even on electric bicycles.

The tours, by EV Adventures, have been unexpectedly successful. The number of visitors tripled after features appeared in the Los Angeles Times in April and local Desert Sun newspaper in March. The tours -- accompanied the low hum of the golf carts, the soft crunch of sand beneath the wheels, the swoosh of the wind turbines, and the ever present hum of the generators -- are offered four times daily. They are meant to last 45 minutes, but often run for more than an hour because people have so many questions.

Visitor Jack Redshaw, who with his wife Sandra exchanged the cold of Claremont, Canada, for sunny Palm Springs, commented: "It's amazing how much they do generate." For Dave and Janet Worthington, the tour was a gift from their daughter who had remembered that her father experimented with wind chargers in the early 1980s back home in Tipton, Iowa. "I didn't realise they were so big," was his comment after one of the wind-swept tours.

The response has surprised even those involved in the area for years. "I'm amazed," Fred Noble of Wintec told the Los Angeles Times. "We were just going along running our business, paying the bills and then there's this depth of response to a tour." Some 70,000 people drive past the San Gorgonio wind farms on I-10 daily. "I've never been out there when someone wasn't pulled over to the side of the road," added Pam Henry of the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Bureau. "And I get requests from film crews all the time."

Because of the summer heat in Palm Springs, when temperatures on the desert floor can reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) in the shade, the first tour season has ended. But the organisers are planning to expand it in time for their next season starting in October. EV Adventures was started by Mike Tyler, a retired dentist and electric bicycle sales man, after he met Noble. The tour guide is Dave Sturges. They plan to add more trailers to create a visitor centre and even a gift shop. Currently one trailer combines the two and a shipping container is the recharging shed for EV Adventures' electric carts.

The tours have also prompted interest in other ventures. One group wants to put a "green" mall on the wind farm, with recycled shoes, organic cotton and other environmentally friendly products. Another entrepreneur apparently envisions a hardware store selling items such as energy efficient light-bulbs. And there is a tentative plan for a kite shop.

In contrast to bus tours, EV Adventures' golf carts allow visitors to feel the wind and smell the desert creosote bush, while being sheltered from direct sun. The tour includes stops at a substation, a nacelle, and old ESI-54 and Storm Master turbines.

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