PALM SPRINGS, Calif., May 6, 2007 — -- Out here in the desert two hours east of Los Angeles, the weather is so blustery that NASA once declared the San Gorgonio Pass "one of the windiest spots in North America." No wonder it's also the birthplace of many of the world's first power-producing windmills.
Today, 3,000 of the so-called wind turbines have sprouted up from the desert floor and lined many of the mountain ridges along the freeway that ushers the rich and the famous into the legendary California oasis, Palm Springs. The sprawling wind farm generates enough electricity to light up a city the size of San Francisco.
But there's trouble on the horizon. A plan to erect even more windmills is meeting with vocal opposition here.
"They want to take this national monument and turn it into an industrial park," said homeowner Les Starks, who lives at the base of the state's second-tallest peak, the San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. "They want to go into neighborhoods where people live and say, 'Oh gee! We're making clean energy. What's your problem with that?' Well, that doesn't really wash!"
Starks is leading a campaign to try to defeat construction of 51 more windmills on a plot of private land within the protected Bureau of Land Management site. When challenged whether he was upset just because the windmills would be in his backyard, he quickly responded, "Yeah, this isn't a 'not in my backyard,' or 'nimby,' issue. This is a national monument. It belongs to everyone."
It's a problem communities are facing across the country -- a choice between renewable energy and natural surroundings. For instance, some Massachusetts residents, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., just suffered a setback in their battle to block a major offshore wind farm near Cape Cod.
Across the valley from Starks, another homeowner has also had it with wind farms. Retired schoolteacher Joyce Manley, her voice nearly drowned out by the blustery 50-mile-per-hour gusts, railed against another plan that would line a local highway with more windmills.