The issue of negative landscape impact has been taken up by the Kern-Kaweah chapter of the Sierra Club. The environmental group's national energy director, Rich Ferguson, says he will be raising the matter in upcoming hearings at the California Energy Commission (CEC) into how to divvy up as much as $540 million in renewables funding.
Ferguson says he will forward a proposal to the CEC calling for a clean-up programme in California as a prerequisite for state funding targeted at the wind industry, but which may also include other renewable energy developers, among them geothermal, solar and biomass. "I don't think a whole lot of clean-up money is needed," acknowledges Ferguson, who declines to provide further details. He remarks, however, that continued support for renewable energy from environmentalists may be contingent on such clean-up efforts. The prime area of the Sierra Club's focus of concern is Tehachapi, where developers Zond, Cannon, Difko and FloWind are criticised.
The leading champion of this cause, ironically, is Paul Gipe, former director of the Kern Wind Energy Association and long time wind industry member. He complains that erosion and old, rusting turbines are a public relations disaster for wind and advocates the creation of mandatory assessments on wind developers to create a mitigation fund. "The California wind industry has a problem with erosion, its aesthetic impact and non-operating turbines," charges Gipe. He also claims the wind industry has reneged on an agreement to fund research into avian mortality in wind farms.
While Gipe's focus is the Tehachapi area, he claims each of California's wind regions has "a jumble of different kinds of wind turbines thrown haphazardly together." Calling these sites "junkyards of the air," Gipe claims that "no one in Great Britain, Germany, Denmark or the Netherlands would long tolerate such a mess. Why should we?" But he also praises Kenetech and SeaWest for their site work.
Figment of imagination
Randy Swisher of the American Wind Energy Association comments: "If these issues were so important, why weren't they on the agenda when Paul was director of the Kern Wind Energy Association." He calls the charges of erosion "a figment of Paul's imagination." In response to concerns about abandoned turbines, Swisher says legal issues regarding private property rights of turbine owners have tied the hands of the wind industry.
Bob Gates of Zond, the dominant wind developer in the Tehachapi area, remarks that developers are required to implement erosion control measures as part of grading permits from the county or the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). "Within eyesight of wind turbines in Tehachapi is an open quarry where dynamite is being used to remove a mountain piece by piece. Compare that to a little dirt running down a hill," he says. Gates says the problem of abandoned turbines is hard to solve. Zond investigated whether some inactive turbines located on BLM land in Palm Springs could be taken out and replaced with state-of-the-art technology. "We were told we couldn't go forward with our proposal until it was determined who had what rights," he says. "Most abandoned turbines are in some stage of resolving disputes."
Gates also takes issue with the Sierra Club's proposal to spend state funds earmarked for new and existing renewable energy projects on site clean-ups. "I don't see enough of a public outcry to justify that. The issue is not even on the radar screen of state legislators," he says. "There was no discussion of cleaning up wind turbines in the California Legislature and spending some portion of those funds on clean-up work would be a perversion of the use of those funds."
Not only state funding but also Department of Energy (DOE) suport might be at risk. Georgette Theotig of the Kern Kaweah chapter of Sierra Club is asking the DOE to steer some $3 million earmarked for further development of Kenetech's problem plagued wind turbine towards mitigating alleged landscape damage. The proposal suggests $1 million should go to erosion control in the Tehachapi Pass; $1 million toward removal of abandoned turbines throughout California; and $1 million for studies of bird interaction with wind turbines.
Theotig has yet to receive a response. While she does not see eye-to-eye with Gipe on the issue of abandoned wind turbines, she claims the erosion caused by wind farms in the Tehachapi area is significant. "You could drive a semi-truck down the mother of all gullies near Horned Toad Ridge," she says, referring to a FloWind site not visible from Highway 58. Just the same, Theotig has nice words about the company. "They have always been willing to talk and I understand they don't have the funding now to do anything about it."
Theotig claims other "huge gullies threaten the Pacific Crest Trail," a hiking footpath that winds through much of the wind farm area in the Tehachapi Mountains. Among her other concerns are impacts upon native vegetation, concerns which have prompted her to call for a moratorium on any further wind development on public and private land north of Highway 58. "I don't want to see the wind industry go down the tubes. I am a wind power advocate. But I don't think wind turbines should be put everywhere where there is some wind," says Theotig.