|Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa.|
In one of his last acts as Third District county supervisor, Neil Derry convinced his board colleagues to take a stand against a British company’s proposal to erect several score 197-foot high wind turbines in the desert north of Yucca Valley on Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa north of Pipes Canyon Road between Pioneertown and Yucca Mesa.
London-based Element Power, which has its main North American office in Portland, Oregon, has been doing exploratory work to determine whether it will seek permits for the project under the aegis of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which calls for 33 percent of California’s commercially-produced electricity sales to be provided by renewable sources by 2020. Element is banking upon an expedited permitting process that is available for projects applied for under the plan.
The board of supervisors this week, however, significantly complicated that approach when it collectively endorsed a resolution brought forth by Derry opposing Element Power’s application.
In making his recommendation for the resolution, Derry noted that the Black Lava Butte Wind Project was proposed to be sited where previously an electrical transmission line project known as Green Path North was to have been located.
“On December 4, 2007 the board of supervisors adopted Resolution No. 2007-367 opposing the Green Path North project proposed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power,” Derry stated in his report to the board with regard to the resolution. “The project called for the erection of power transmission lines throughout western portions of the Morongo Basin and endangered natural wildlife corridors, sensitive habitat areas and important cultural resources. Following the abandonment of the Green Path North project, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power once again solicited requests for proposals to be filed for proposed projects on the Green Path North alignment.
The Black Lava Butte Wind Project application filed by Element Power and approved by the Bureau of Land Management calls for the exploration of potential wind energy capture and transmission within the backcountry of the Morongo Basin. Element Power would first seek to ascertain the viability of wind energy development by measuring data from two meteorological towers approximately 200 feet in height that have already been constructed.”
In July 2011, Element Power erected the two 197-foot high towers Derry referred to in order to collect data on wind speed and direction at that height at that location. The Bureau of Land Management in 2010 gave Element permission to build those towers. Element hopes to determine from that data whether building a wind farm at that location will prove commercially viable.
While some endorse the concept of aggressive corporate efforts to develop renewable energy and certain environmentalists embrace the wind farm concept, others, including some environmentalists, are opposed to the project proposal.
Some opponents cite the harm they perceive the placement of turbines will have on the desert vista. They and others find objectionable the danger they say the wind turbines represent to eagles, bats, and other birds that fly through or inhabit the area. Another point of protest hinges on the possible destruction of Native American rock art and other archaeological artifacts in the area. Other critics point out that the remote location of the wind field will require that the electricity be transported a considerable distance, and that a significant percentage of the energy will be lost during that line transport.
Three groups opposed to the project on environmental grounds, the California Desert Coalition, Save Our Desert, and the Center for Biological Diversity, are seeking to have that portion of the desert which was identified as an area of critical environmental concern in the Desert Protection Act introduced to Congress in 2011 extended to include Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa.
If Element Power elects to proceed with the project, it will need to erect eight miles of transmission lines and towers to deliver the energy to the California Power Grid’s existing electrical transmission lines.
Derry made reference to the transmission line and its placement in his call for the board to oppose the project.
“In order to supply the region’s electrical grid with the wind power, an eight-mile transmission line would need to be constructed over environmentally sensitive habitat,” Derry wrote. “Over 4,000 acres of undeveloped public lands would be subjected to transmission lines and networks of wind turbines. This project area required helicopter transport in order to erect the meteorological towers and further development would require the building of road infrastructure in order to reach two scenic jewels of the Morongo Basin: Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa.”
Derry said that neither he nor the county are opposed to the harnessing of the wind to produce electrical power, but that such projects should be undertaken in areas that will not suffer environmental or ecological degradation as a consequence.
“As stated previously in Resolution No. 2007-367, while the county supports the use of renewable resources and encourages programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions; the county of San Bernardino also places a high value on protecting and preserving the natural resources of the California desert and as a result opposes the construction of high tension power lines through environmentally sensitive areas in the Morongo Basin, and recommends that additional power lines be located within existing energy corridors,” Derry stated.