Renewable energy projects meet opposition
Jun 6, 2008 - Jennifer Bowles - McClatchy Newspapers
A rush to build environmentally friendly renewable energy
in the windy, sunny Inland region has stirred up some
unlikely foes: environmentalists.
They say the projects mean new transmission lines and
towers across some of the very mountains and desert vistas
people have fought to protect.
"It seems kind of silly to have a solar project in Blythe
[in eastern Riverside County] and send it along transmission
lines," said Jeff Morgan, chairman of the Sierra Club
group in the Coachella Valley. "They should put them on
the roofs of Los Angeles. It's best and most efficient
when it's used where it is generated."
It's not just environmentalists who are objecting. A
Riverside County supervisor said he opposes plans to erect
400-foot-tall wind turbines for the first time on the
4,000-foot elevation of Mount San Jacinto, near Palm Springs.
And a San Bernardino County supervisor has strongly urged
Los Angeles to abandon plans to string new transmission
lines to carry renewable energy through the Morongo Basin
east of Joshua Tree National Park.
Apple Valley leaders passed a resolution in April opposing
plans to erect wind turbines along the ridgeline of the
Granite Mountain range east of town.
"There's almost a Gold Rush type of thing happening
in the Inland Empire and up in the desert to capture what
we have here," said Scott Nassif, an Apple Valley town
"They're great resources," Nassif said of the wind and
sun, "but we need to make sure we're approaching it the
right way and know the impacts on the communities."
He noted that while the projects might be located in
the Inland region, they benefit much of Southern California
by feeding into the electricity grid.
Mike Marelli, power contract manager for Southern California
Edison, said the state's utility companies may not have
much choice about building new transmission lines. Edison
and other utilities must meet a legislative mandate to
have 20 percent of their energy production from renewable
sources by 2010.
"For renewable energy to really move forward," Marelli
said, "there has to a significant investment in transmission."
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has received so many
applications for solar energy projects that the agency
last week put new applications on hold and launched an
environmental review for such projects on public land
in six Western states.
In California's desert, which includes eastern Riverside
County and much of San Bernardino County, the agency has
66 applications for solar projects on more than 518,573
acres, BLM spokeswoman Jan Bedrosian said. The agency
will host hearings this month to gather public input on
what environmental and socioeconomic issues should be
Besides the potential for the renewable-energy projects
to change the landscape, Bedrosian said, a number of threatened
and endangered species, including the desert tortoise,
live on the land where companies want to build.
San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said
the review will help decide where such projects are appropriate
and where they should be restricted. "
At a time when the desert has become smaller because
of urban growth, set-asides for [endangered species] habitat
and wilderness, and expansion of military bases, we cannot
surrender huge areas of public land without a serious
discussion about which resources we can sacrifice and
which need to be protected," he said in a statement.
On Friday, Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, and Riverside
County Supervisor Marion Ashley helped dedicate a new
wind farm in Palm Springs that a Sierra Club representative
held up as a way to harness wind energy without doing
other damage to the environment.
Known as the Dillon Wind Power Project, the Iberdrola
Renewables wind farm north of Interstate 10 encompasses
45 turbines that produce 45 megawatts of energy, or enough
to power 13,500 homes.
Carl Zichella, Sierra Club regional staff director, said
he attended the dedication because Iberdrola did everything
right with this wind farm, in part because the project
sits among existing turbines and will tap into existing
transmission lines rather than string up new ones.
But, he said, tough questions remain to be answered about
the larger push for renewable energy. Solving climate
change by reducing reliance on traditional coal-fired
power plants -- a major contributor to greenhouse gases
-- and focusing on renewable energies has challenged some
environmental groups because of the potential to mar the
landscape and disrupt wildlife.
"It's a very difficult issue for an organization like
ours, which helped to protect millions of acres of this
beautiful desert all around us, to figure out how to do
this right," he said. "We have to change the way we think
about this, and how we work with people to make that happen."
One of the more controversial projects in Riverside County
would put about 50 turbines as tall as 438 feet in the
San Jacinto Mountains. The wind farm would be at the 4,000-foot
level, on private property within the boundaries of the
San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains Nationaln Monument
-- which was created through legislation spearheaded by
Bono Mack said she is not endorsing the wind farm. However,
the law that created the monument protects the property
rights of people who own land within its boundaries. It's
up to county officials, she said, to decide the project's
Ashley said he and fellow Supervisor Roy Wilson oppose
the project as proposed because it would mar the view
and sit within the monument. Riverside County, unlike
San Bernardino County, hasn't taken a position on the
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power plan to build
a system of electrical towers and power lines from Desert
Hot Springs to Hesperia to transmit energy from geothermal,
solar and wind projects in the Imperial Valley.
San Bernardino County officials have asked the city of
Los Angeles to stay out of environmentally sensitive areas
in the Morongo Basin. And Supervisor Dennis Hansberger
last month asked Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
and the City Council to abandon any plans to build transmission
lines in the Morongo Basin. The basin encompasses several
land preserves that are open to the public.
Hansberger said the Green Path North project will create
"environmental devastation" in desert communities of San
Bernardino and Riverside counties.
"Your current proposal shows a complete disregard for
our pristine desert," said Hansberger, whose 3rd District
includes the Morongo Valley.
Joseph Ramallo, a spokesman for the Los Angeles utility,
said a final route has not been determined.
April Sall is preserve manager for the Pioneertown Mountains
Preserve, owned by The Wildlands Conservancy in Oak Glen.
She said one of the route options for Green Path North
would cut through the conservancy's Sawtooth Mountains
and another route would line up near the group's headquarters
in Oak Glen in the San Bernardino Mountains.
She said the emphasis should be on energy conservation
and local generation to avoid new transmission lines.
"You have a project that is benefiting a constituency
100 miles away, and it's doing all the impact in a completely
different county and community that will not receive the
benefits," she said. "It's an unnecessary approach, and
that's the bigger issue."