Aerial Photos Show Wind Project's Toll on the Desert

Pattern Energy has begun clearing beautiful desert near Anza-Borrego State Park for the nearly 16 square mile Ocotillo Express Wind project.  Once completed, the facility will consist of 112 wind turbines, each one standing over 400 feet tall, and requiring wide new roads carved into the fragile desert soil.

Photographer Phillip Colla gives us a birds-eye view of the beginning phase of the destruction with a series of images available at his website.  The photos were made possible by aviation support provided by LightHawk.

A photograph of preparations for a single wind turbine pad.  Notice the new dirt road, and clearing around the pad, with a deep pit that will be filled with tons of cement and steel to anchor the turbine.  Photo by Phillip Colla. Aviation support provided by LightHawk.

Wide new roads are carved into the desert soil to accommodate construction traffic and the arrival of turbine parts larger than an average home.  The disturbance of the soil for roads will invite invasive plant species, create dust storms, and lead to further erosion of the adjacent desert habitat.  Photo by Phillip Colla. Aviation support provided by LightHawk
A large swath of the desert is ripped open by Pattern Energy, probably to accommodate cement mixing operations.  Wind turbines require large amounts of cement and steel to anchor the massive structures in the ground.  Both ingredients require greenhouse gas intensive manufacturing. Photo by Phillip Colla. Aviation support provided by LightHawk

This destruction for new pads and roads will be repeated to accommodate 112 turbines across an area larger than downtown San Diego, shattering the quiet and peaceful desert landscape. Photo by Phillip Colla. Aviation support provided by LightHawk

A photo of the desert habitat that is being destroyed and fragmented to make way for Pattern Energy's Ocotillo Express Wind project.  Majestic Ocotillo plants tower over other cacti and shrubs, blooming after spring rains. Photo by Terry Weiner.

This photo shows a truck carrying just one section of a single turbine to the project site -- the beginning of an industrial landscape near Ocotillo, California.  The project will require dozens of additional trips by long-haul trucks to bring all of the required components.  Photo by Jim Pelley.

A single blade for a wind turbine requires its own diesel truck and two cranes.  The blade dwarfs the desert vegetation. Photo by Park Ewing.

Earth movers have graded some of the intact desert. Photo by Tom Budlong.
Ocotillo plants and cactus are discarded after Pattern Energy bulldozed this once intact desert habitat.  Photo by Tom Budlong.

As climate change, urban sprawl and other industrial uses target our wildlands, we should be challenging ourselves to adopt a more sustainable renewable energy path focused on improving our energy efficiency,  and deploying solar panels on rooftops, over parking lots, or on already-disturbed lands.


  1. Marshal South must be rolling in his grave. I think you will be able to see these towers from atop Ghost Mountain at his old homestead, Yaquitepec.


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