May 30, 2008

S.B. County could be next stop for wind power

The Dillon Wind Power Project unveiled 45 new turbines in the Coachella Valley on Friday. The project would contribute to California s goal of producing 20 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2010. San Bernardino County could be next in line for wind farms. The proposal that is farthest along is in Apple Valley. (Eric Reed/Staff Photographer)

Lauren McSherry, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

PALM SPRINGS - On Friday morning, elected officials, environmentalists and energy company representatives heralded the unveiling of the Dillon Wind Power Project, a group of 45 turbines towering more than 300 feet above the Coachella Valley.

Experts were quick to talk about how the project will reduce California's carbon footprint. Missing from the discussion, though, was a revelation with big import for San Bernardino County.

Energy companies are looking to higher elevations of San Bernardino County as the next frontier for renewable energy.

The Palm Springs wind farms have been built out, and there are few options other than upgrading their aging turbines.

A number of proposals have been submitted to the state Bureau of Land Management, but one - a proposal that would build up to 28 turbines six miles east of Apple Valley and is the farthest along in the approval process - could be San Bernardino County's first wind farm.

The company behind the $130 million plan, Granite Mountain Wind in Redlands, says it will help California meet its goal of producing 20 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources by 2010.

The proposal's 410-foot ridgeline turbines, however, have created controversy. Some residents have said property values could be affected, scenic views could be lost and wildlife corridors could be blocked by roads.

And the project still has some hurdles. The California Public Utilities Commission must approve the agreement between Granite Mountain Wind and Southern California Edison, which would buy the energy. A decision is expected by the end of the summer. The project must also make it through the environmental review process, which is being overseen by the county and the BLM.

Although Carl Zichella, regional staff director of the Sierra Club, spoke in support of the Dillon wind farm Friday, he said he could not comment on the Granite Mountain Wind project.

Other proposed wind projects in the High Desert include an application for up to 36 turbines just northeast of Apple Valley on Sidewinder Mountain, which was submitted to the BLM by Orion Energy Group, owned by energy behemoth BP Amoco PLC, according to BLM documents.

Another wind farm is proposed for 3,100 acres in Johnson Valley, northeast of Lucerne Valley. Up to 34 425-foot turbines could be built.

Sierra Renewables is studying three potential wind farms between Barstow and Baker, said Gill Howard, project manager with Sierra Renewables, which is the parent company of Granite Wind Energy.

Howard said the Granite Mountain project alone would mean a substantial investment in the local economy.

About $12 million would go toward construction. Money that will go toward hiring local contractors and buying construction materials, she said.

In addition, Granite Mountain Wind would pay $1 million in property taxes to the county each year, and 17 jobs would be created, she said.

"And that's just one project," she said. "If we were to do some of the others, we would be looking at much higher numbers than that."