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Two proposed windmills worry homeowner

Elliott said the threat that the two proposed mega windmills -- which would be more than 100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty -- pose to his home and family was dramatically demonstrated in 2002, when an existing shorter windmill malfunctioned and caught fire.

WHITEWATER - Standing on a sandy slope behind his hilltop home, Mark Elliott points to a windmill-dotted ridge about 1,200 feet away.

"That's where they want to put them," the 50-year-old retired U.S. Navy veteran said. "Right there."

Elliott's reference was to two new 411-foot windmills recently approved by the Riverside County Planning Commission, to go on 5 acres near the single-story, ranch-style home on Whitewater Hill that Elliott and his wife, Corazon, bought six years ago.

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Amanda Lucidon / The Press-Enterprise
Mark Elliott, of Whitewater, says the two proposed mega windmills are a danger to his home and family. The windmills would be more than 100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

Two of the couple's seven sons have moved out on their own. But five of the boys remain in the 1,400-square-foot family home that boasts bird's-eye views of nearby Desert Hot Springs, the surrounding mountains and scores of white windmills.

Elliott said the threat that the two proposed mega windmills -- which would be more than 100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty -- pose to his home and family was dramatically demonstrated in 2002, when an existing shorter windmill... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

WHITEWATER - Standing on a sandy slope behind his hilltop home, Mark Elliott points to a windmill-dotted ridge about 1,200 feet away.

"That's where they want to put them," the 50-year-old retired U.S. Navy veteran said. "Right there."

Elliott's reference was to two new 411-foot windmills recently approved by the Riverside County Planning Commission, to go on 5 acres near the single-story, ranch-style home on Whitewater Hill that Elliott and his wife, Corazon, bought six years ago.

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Amanda Lucidon / The Press-Enterprise
Mark Elliott, of Whitewater, says the two proposed mega windmills are a danger to his home and family. The windmills would be more than 100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. 

Two of the couple's seven sons have moved out on their own. But five of the boys remain in the 1,400-square-foot family home that boasts bird's-eye views of nearby Desert Hot Springs, the surrounding mountains and scores of white windmills.

Elliott said the threat that the two proposed mega windmills -- which would be more than 100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty -- pose to his home and family was dramatically demonstrated in 2002, when an existing shorter windmill malfunctioned and caught fire.

"There were chunks of burning fiberglass the size of an egg raining down on us," Elliott said. "I had to take the boys to Desert Hot Springs for a milkshake, because you couldn't breathe."

Elliott, who still works part time as a private investigator, said he wants the county Board of Supervisors, which will pass final judgment on the project, to listen to his concerns and do something to ensure that he and his family are protected.

"Those two new windmills will be directly upwind of us," he said. "We generally support windmills. I just don't want them put right over my kids' heads."

Supervisor Marion Ashley, who represents the unincorporated area where the Elliott's live, said he will consider neighbors' concerns about the windmills when the matter comes before the board.

But Ashley said the county has to balance those concerns with other issues.

"Renewable energy, wind energy, is very important to us meeting our power needs," Ashley said. "If we don't put more energy facilities on line soon, even this summer, we could run out of power. We have to look at all the facts."

County regulations require windmills to be placed at least three times as far away from a home as the height of the turbine.

The two proposed windmills would be placed 100 feet farther away from the Elliott home than the minimum setback, creating a total distance of more than 1,300 feet, said Bradford W. Adams.

Adams is the director of project development for Whitewater Energy Corp., the Torrance-based company behind the project. He said each of the two Vestas V90 turbines will be able to generate up to three megawatts of power or 10 million kilowatt hours each year.

That is enough electricity to power more than 1,700 homes. The same energy output would have required more than 200 older-generation windmills in the early 1980s, he said.

 Adams said larger turbines capture more energy at lower wind speeds. Adams said the benefits of the project for the county and the country are manifold.

The two new turbines alone would represent a $6 million increase in the assessed value of the land they will be built on, generating additional property taxes for the county in addition to providing environmentally friendly power, he said. They will also produce construction, manufacturing and maintenance jobs, he said.

Adams said the two new windmills along with the 224 other wind turbines that Whitewater Energy operates in the San Gorgonio Pass will help reduce California's dependence on fossil fuels along with the pollutants they produce.

He said Whitewater Energy could have used 100-meter towers for the two V90 turbines which would have raised their total height to 475 feet, still within the county's 500-foot height limit.

"We decided to use smaller 80-meter towers to alleviate the concerns of our neighbors," Adams said.

Adams said in 23 years of operation, there have only been two turbine fires involving Whitewater windmills in the area.

"Technology and design have come a long ways," Adams said, adding that new lightning protection systems allow a bolt to strike a windmill blade while not damaging the structure. Most of the internal components of the turbines, as well as the tower, are made of metal, he said.

"Fire concerns are near nonexistent," he said.

Paul Clark, principal planner in the county's Coachella Valley office, said windmills do sometimes have mechanical problems, although the risks to neighbors are small, considering the required setbacks.

"Turbines do catch fire; there are blade throws; these things do happen," Clark said, adding that with nearly 3,000 windmills in the pass area, there have been only one or two minor incidents a year since 1982, when the county approved them.

Clark said the root of most of the opposition to windmills can be found elsewhere.

"It becomes a quality-of-life issue," he said.

He said residents complain about windmills obstructing their views, decreasing their property values and generating unwelcome noise.

"It isn't like an airport that shuts down at night," Clark said. "The turbines run all night and day. You put them in a rural area, where noise levels are relatively low, and suddenly people are confronted with a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week noise source."

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Clark said the noise produced by the two giant turbines will be within the county's 55-decibel limit.

Because they are so tall, Clark said, the Federal Aviation Administration would require that the two new windmills be equipped with lighting to warn passing airplanes of their presence.

Clark said it will probably be three to seven weeks before the Board of Supervisors considers the proposed windmills. Until now, he said, the tallest windmills approved by the county were about 330 feet.

"We're taking another quantum jump," he said.

Reach David Hermann at 760-837-4415 or dhermann@pe.com

 


Source: http://www.pe.com/localnews...

JUL 9 2006
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