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Antelope Valley residents not fired up over green energy projects

Wind and solar projects proposed in the Antelope Valley would ruin the area's ambiance and harm the environment, residents say.

July 04, 2011|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times
  • A view down a road in Portal Ridge shows some of the wide open spaces that Antelope Valley residents fear would be marred by the nearly 500-foot-tall wind turbines that have been proposed.
A view down a road in Portal Ridge shows some of the wide open spaces that Antelope… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Judy Watson watched as the California Poppy Reserve was established in the 1970s just five miles from her home. She was looking forward to cherishing its vistas forever.

But today Watson is among area residents and nature lovers who fear that the state park's annual blaze of orange blossoms will be overshadowed by "green" — energy, that is, in the form of sprawling solar panels and gigantic industrial-size wind turbines.

"The whole area will be changed forever," said Watson, 70, who lives in Kings Canyon at the base of verdant Portal Ridge.

Two solar projects have already been approved for unincorporated Los Angeles County. Eight other renewable energy projects have been proposed. Of these, NextEra Energy Resources of Juno Beach, Fla. and Portland-based Element Power US, want to build facilities that would become the county's first utility-scale wind turbine facilities, towering hundreds of feet high.

The Antelope Valley may not have the shimmering sea views of Santa Monica or the luxury real estate of Beverly Hills. But what it does have is wind. Lots of it. And unlike many other blustery places, the gusts are reliable and display impeccable timing.

"The western Antelope Valley boasts both the highest and most consistent winds in almost all of Southern California," said Nat Parker, project manager for Element Power's proposed Wildflower Green Energy Farm. "Between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. the winds reach their highest peak, and it falls in line with when the electrical grid has highest demand."

County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the unincorporated Antelope Valley, said this region "has the potential to become the nation's leader in green, alternative energy innovation and production." But he emphasized that community support is key to the success of these projects.

Element wants to use 4,000 acres of private land next to the poppy reserve for solar panels and some 50 wind turbines almost 500 feet high. Each turbine would produce enough electricity to power up to 2,000 homes, Parker said.

Steve Stengel, a spokesman for NextEra, which is proposing 90 turbines on about 7,000 acres in the northwestern Antelope Valley, noted that this area has been identified by the California Energy Commission as suitable for large-scale wind and solar power developments.

State lawmakers have set a goal of obtaining 33% of California's electricity from alternative clean power sources by 2020, and NextEra is attempting to help the state meet this mandate, Stengel said.

But the wind turbines would be in plain view and earshot of residents of nearby communities such as Kings Canyon, Antelope Acres, Portal Ridge and The Lakes. The residents fear that if one such project is approved, others will inevitably follow.

"We believe the area can support some industrial-scale solar panels, but we don't believe the whole western Antelope Valley should be covered with them, and we don't believe wind turbines belong anywhere out there," said Margaret Rhyne, who is part of a grass-roots effort to limit construction of such facilities.

Critics argue that erecting wind turbines atop ridges near homes would spoil views, cause noise and devalue properties. Faulty wind turbines could spark wildfires, and the machines blades could obstruct firefighting aircraft and kill birds, they say, and the structures would damage wildlife habitats and migration corridors.

On a recent tour near the sites proposed for the Antelope Valley wind turbines, longtime locals Jeff Olesh, Vern Biehl and Kathryn Porter stopped atop a ridge to point out uninterrupted views of Lake Hughes, Elizabeth Lake and Leona Valley. The landscape blended into shades of green and yellow. Portions were blanketed with chamise or peppered with yucca plants and elderberry bushes. Tri-colored blackbirds flitted overhead.

"This is what we're trying to save," said Olesh, a retired mechanic with a home in Portal Ridge.

Officials at Element and NextEra have presented their plans to community members and say they've done their homework.

Parker said Element had conducted wildlife and avian studies, monitored migration patterns and surveyed species such as butterflies and bats. The conclusion was "no fatal flaws to the site that make it untenable," Parker said. He said his company also would dedicate 320 of its 4,000 acres to permanent conservation.

NextEra's Stengel said the effect of the turbines on wildlife would be "minimal" and on nearby communities "negligible."

As objections increase to the prospect of alternative energy facilities consuming large parts of the Antelope Valley, county regional planning officials are seeking local input for the updated Antelope Valley Area Plan to help determine sites for future wind and solar farms.

"We want it to happen," said Mitch Glaser, a supervising county regional planner, but only in "compatible" locations.

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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