The San Gorgonio Wind Farm is impossible to miss when visiting a unique desert tourist destination, Palm Springs. The wind farm is not only one of the five major wind farms in California and a part of the state’s renewable energy portfolio, but also a popular tourist destination characterized by spectacular views and fascinating ecosystems. Several tour operators, including California Adventures and The Best of the Best Tours, promote the wind farm by taking visitors on a wonderful sightseeing excursion and introducing the history, technology, meteorology, and ecology of this environmentally friendly power.
The wind farm was constructed in the San Gorgonio Pass in the early 1980’s and is one of the three primary wind plants in California, along with Altamont Pass near San Francisco and Tehachapi Pass near Bakersfield. A fourth major plant in California, the Shiloh Wind Power Plant, was constructed in Solano County between 2005 and 2009. In 2010, Terra-Gen Power undertook a construction of the largest wind farm in the nation and the fifth major one in California, the Alta Wind Energy Center located in Kern County.
The San Gorgonio Pass, one of the windiest places in California, is a two-mile-wide pass that stretches between the San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountain ranges that rise up to 9,000 feet. The winds in this region are a direct result of air passing from the high pressure to low pressure area or the warm desert air mixing with cooler coastal air. The winds here reach average speeds of 15 to 20 mph, with the highest wind speeds occurring in the hot summer months. Wind speeds of minimum 13 mph are necessary to generate wind energy. The San Gorgonio wind farm contains approximately 4,000 wind turbines and generates enough power, which is sold to local utilities, to satisfy the electricity demand for Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley.
My visit to the wind farm was rather accidental. I woke one day to realize that the clouds covering the sky since the day before were not going anywhere. As much as I love the first rain after a long, dry summer in Southern California, that cloudy weather conflicted with my previously made plans to spend some time outdoors. A quick glance at a local weather map revealed that the closest destination with clear, blue skies was in Palm Springs. Without further ado, I jumped behind the wheel of my car, and as I was approaching Palm Springs after two hours on the road I noticed a huge clearing in the sky. Mission accomplished, I thought with a smile.
Within minutes the clouds cleared out completely letting the sun shed a bright light on the infinite desert fields and the surrounding mountain ranges. It was then I noticed a forest of spinning wind turbines – a view that without doubt deserved to be photographed. I immediately parked my car and as I stepped outside I understood why this particular location was chosen for the wind farm development – the wind was so strong it almost knocked me off balance. I was standing in the middle of the San Gorgonio Pass, one of the windiest places in California. A spectacular and breathtaking view of thousands of spinning wind turbines stretching several miles into the desert made me wonder about the wind energy potential.
Although there are numerous advantages of wind-generated energy, there are also several challenges that the industry must overcome in order to promote the viability of wind plants as reliable energy sources. Technological innovations along with government subsidies continue to bring the cost of wind energy down, making it more competitive with the cost of conventional electricity sources. With the construction of new wind energy plants, California is on the way to reach its ambitious goal of 33% renewable energy by 2020, and transition to clean energy sources in the near future.
As for me, visiting the wind farm and witnessing the power of windmills renewed my hope for a greener future happening much sooner than I would expect.
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