by Andrew Walden
Tall skeletons jab their accusing limbs skyward. Bleached white in the desert sun, the restless spirits of a forgotten past moan and howl—or is it the wind?
Some rock back and forth, others spin wildly. Condemned to purgatory they vainly spew black putrefaction at masters long ago absconded. Some spontaneously burst into flames. Most endure the years locked in a rigid upright posture, a few, perhaps fortunate, collapse to Earth, a twisted pile of broken bones.
One of the lucky ones, Altamont
These are the ghosts of wind farms past. Abandoned to decay after the collapse of wind subsidies in the 1990s, their one-note song rides the winds in California’s valleys of Tehachapi, San Gorgonio, and Altamont—a warning to a heedless planet from the best wind spots on Earth.
Flickr: Author's photos of dead Calif. windfarms.
The view from I-580, Altamont.
Travelers by the thousand perhaps marvel at seemingly functional Potemkin turbines visible spinning merrily from the freeways. Developers have been careful to keep each white nacelle cover intact.
But the few intrepid souls exploring back roads discover the bone yards of wind reality.
Closeup of Junk Wind Turbine, N Flynn Rd, Altamont
Tehachapi’s wind graveyards are just south of busy Hwy 58. In hidden valleys they are visible from Cameron Canyon and Oak Creek roads.
Oil leaks and burned out bearings leave these dead Oak Creek Rd turbines pointing every which way.
18th Ave San Gorgonio Valley--Each missing turbine is outlined by catwalk railings.
San Gorgonio’s line both sides of I-10 near Palm Springs—far enough away to be invisible to the freeway-bound, they can be seen from the gravel service road fronting the rail line south of the freeway and from 18th Street north of the freeway.
Altamont N Flynn Rd, three nacelle covers missing, fourth is falling off. There are hundreds like these.
Altamont's dead windmills are just off I-580 on little travelled North Flynn Rd, Mountain House Road, Dwyer Rd and Altamont Pass Rd.
Altamont N Flynn Rd, every nacelle cover missing.
What happens to bearings when the they endure one dust storm too many? Tehachapi has the answer.
Row after row of oil-stained wind turbines line Oak Creek Rd. Their ruined bearings produce an eerie moan.
San Gorgonio pass spreads out miles wide, but one must get up close and personal to spot the missing nacelle covers.
San Gorgonio as seen from the railroad tracks -- five of eight nacelle covers missing.
18th Ave San Gorgonio, dozens of missing turbines.
Altamont Pass carries thousands of daily commuters from Tracy, Los Banos, and Manteca to jobs in the Bay area but these 1980s relics seem to be waiting for a challenge from a traveler of another era--Don Quixote
Altamont Pass Rd: Waiting for the Man of La Mancha.
These are the remnants of 14,000 windmills built in the 1980s and abandoned after collapse of federal and state wind subsidies in the 1990s. Now they just kill birds.
Used windfarm, for sale cheap. Rep. Richard Pombo of Tracy, CA was drummed out of office in 2006 amid allegations of self-dealing and profiteering from windfarm subsidies. Pombo's dead windfarm is along Grant Line Rd.
When America gets tired of burning money on the newer batch of wind turbines, they too will be abandoned. Trendsetting California foretells the future of wind energy. But further west--in Hawaii--some are getting a head start.
Kahuku, Oahu, was the site of 1990s wind turbines which were abandoned and dismantled. Financed by a $117M US Treasury loan, a new wind farm commenced production March 1, 2011—but it didn’t last long. Kahuku’s battery storage facility burned to the ground in a multi-day August, 2012 fire which spewed toxic lead smoke over North Shore Oahu farmland. The site has not produced a watt of power since. Independent of the fire, its ‘Clipper Liberty’ turbines are the subject of a lawsuit for defective manufacture. Clipper Liberty was founded by two veterans of Enron Wind.
Kahuku developer First Wind, formerly known as UPC Wind, got its start in the 1980s California wind rush before abandoning the state and transferring operations to Europe. Title to dozens of UPC-built wind farms would be seized in 2010 as part of a $1.2B Italian Mafia asset confiscation. Many were found to be completely non-functional, producing nothing but tax credits. First Wind is now one of the largest windfarm developers in the US.
When the current wave of wind profiteers goes the way of their predecessors, the only thing that will be left are the brand new ‘peaker’ plants—powered by natural gas-- built to smooth the erratic flow of low quality electricity from the wind turbines.
One of two peaker plants, 18th Ave San Gorgonio.
Fossil fuels? Wind is already fossilized.
Flickr: Authors 231 photos of dead windfarms.
2010: Wind Energy's Ghosts