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27 companies exploring area's wind potential

Sept 8, 2009 - Jessica Cejnar - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Solar may be at the forefront of alternative energy exploration in the Mojave Desert, but a myriad of companies are also looking at the potential of wind as another clean source of electricity.

According to a list of California renewable energy applications compiled by the Bureau of Land Management, about 27 companies are looking to put some kind of wind project on land managed by the BLM's Barstow field office. The majority of these applications are from companies who are seeking to test the desert's wind potential, said Greg Miller, renewable energy program manager for the BLM's California Desert District. These companies apply to put in meteorological wind turbines to determine the wind's speed and direction, Miller said. The BLM gives them three years to conduct these tests, he said.

"If they want to continue, they have to renew that application with an application for development at the same time," he said. "Usually they have just figured out where they want to put those wind turbines at. They give us what's called a plan of development, (which) gives us an idea of how many acres they plan on developing."

Development for wind energy has been in the California desert for about 30 years with largescale projects in the Coachella Valley and Tehachapi areas, Miller said. According to Miller, a total of 62 companies in the California Desert have submitted wind energy applications to the BLM; 55 of those are for testing. There are two plans for the development of wind farms east of Barstow and some other sites near the Mexican border, he said, but the BLM hasn't given these companies approval to move forward with their plans. According to Miller, the BLM has to conduct environmental impact reports and other processes to determine the wind project's compatibility with the land.

Nancy Rader, executive director for the California Wind Energy Association, a non-profit organization that is supported by members of the wind energy industry, said wind projects are scattered throughout the desert. She said the Barstow area is attractive to many wind energy companies because of its easy accessibility to existing transmission lines. Other wind energy companies are looking at northeastern California for development, but according to Rader, it doesn't have easy access to transmission lines.

" Near Barstow (there are) existing transmission facilities that can be upgraded," she said. "Whereas in the northeast corner there aren't any structures there."

Meghan Dotter, director of external communications for AES Wind Generations, Inc., a Virginia-based company which has about 1,300 megawatts of wind operations globally, said her company is in the very early stages of pursuing a wind project near Barstow.

"We're still in the studying phases to see what the potential will be," Dotter said. "At this stage we're not in a position to discuss any project specifics."