It is a rude awakening for CalWEA and other industry officials to the realities of the desert, where stakeholders have been in line to exploit or enjoy the open landscapes long before the energy industry discovered a way to make profit in the desert. At the end of the DRECP stakeholders process, it became evident that many areas sought after by the wind industry are of high importance not only to wildlife, but to military and recreation stakeholders, as well.
Authorities Aim to Prevent Avian CatastrophyUS Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials involved in the DRECP process have taken a cautious approach to permitting wind energy facilities on desert lands, according to their presentation at a late July DRECP meeting. The officials indicated the need to prevent the decimation of the desert's fragile golden eagle population as it considers industry requests to build in the region, and the need for continued research on golden eagle presence and behavior. The USFWS officials are considering siting practices that would limit or prohibit the construction of wind turbines or solar "power towers" within 4 miles of an active golden eagle nest, and limiting overall take -- the harassment or death of golden eagles -- to 5% of the total population in California.
Pine Tree Wind project in the western Mojave Desert, which has already killed several golden eagles and may be one of the deadliest to birds and bats. The wind industry's own version of science claims that avian mortality can be reduced with bigger turbines, yet the Pine Tree project already uses such large turbines, and a new study suggests that the large turbines may be more deadly to bats.
The wind industry's response to USFWS has been hostile. CalWEA officials at the July stakeholders meeting for the DRECP claimed that the science behind USFWS concern was lacking -- an ironic statement to make for an industry that is coordinating with the pro-wind American Wind Wildlife Institute to produce "studies" that support industry's own version of "science," according to a leaked wind industry strategy document.
Wind Industry Claims Wildlife and Industry CoexistDuring the DRECP stakeholders meeting, wind industry representatives claimed that wildlife and industrial facilities can coexist -- claims reminiscent of BrightSource Energy's propaganda suggesting that desert ecosystems could flourish underneath the company's massive mirrors and steel towers, even though vegetation is mowed down and soil is compacted or graded. The bottom line is that wind industry facilities on wildlands require miles of new roads wide enough to accommodate construction vehicles and the delivery and installation of towers over 400 feet tall. The construction activity destroys habitat, contributed to erosion of soils, and introduces invasive plant species. Once in place, the tower's spinning blades pose a threat to birds and bats, with over 440,000 birds being killed each year, according to a study highlighted by the American Bird Conservancy.
|An aerial photo of wind turbines in the western Mojave Desert, pushing raptors from foraging territory and industrializing otherwise peaceful desert habitat.|
Military Red ZonesCalWEA likely expected the challenge from wildlife officials attempting to maintain the integrity of desert ecosystems. What they did not expect was the Department of Defense's interest in protecting a unique area for training and testing among an assemblage of military bases in the desert that has not be replicated anywhere else in the world. As noted by the Press-Enterprise in a May article, Defense officials have expressed concern to the DRECP stakeholders that spinning wind turbine blades interfere with radar signals, and that super-heated solar "power towers" can distract the thermal image-based targeting sensors of military weapons. If wind and solar "power tower" facilities proliferate across the desert, training and testing ranges used by the Department of Defense would be disrupted.
Industry Squeezing RecreationThe military is already claiming some prized off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation areas as new training grounds -- now the wind industry wants to challenge the military and recreational visitors to the rest of the desert. Although the wind industry claims that the public will still have access to desert lands where wind facilities are built, the reality on the ground has been mixed. Visitors -- including hikers and OHV riders -- have been barred from parts of Jawbone Canyon in the western Mojave Desert where wind facilities have been under construction. Other visitors will find the landscapes unattractive -- the quiet and open deserts marred by the blight of massive and loud wind turbines. The desert is often seen as a quiet getaway by many visitors. According to a poll of visitors to Joshua Tree National Park, nearly 90% cited "views without development" as the reason for visiting the desert wildlands. Towers taller than the Statue of Liberty and new transmission lines probably are not compatible with the peaceful solitude many expect to find in the desert.
Industry Likely to Push BackLocal officials from the USFWS and military seem to be taking a policy approach that carefully considers the impact of industrial-scale energy facilities on desert resources -- a breath of fresh air from the typically blind approval the wind industry receives from political appointees and national environmental groups inside Washington's Beltway. CalWEA and the larger American Wind Energy Association have coordinated efforts and invested large sums of money to buy political support for the industry, which depends on access to vast swaths of public lands to continue making profit. The industry likely will continue challenging science-based concerns by USFWS and the military in favor of Wall Street's bottom line, lobbying the White House and the Secretary of Interior to undermine barriers in its way.