We arrived in Palm Springs after sunset, but as we approached the ghostly outlines of wind turbines appeared around us. We had seen them early on in our drive outside of Livermore/Tracy in Northern California, but the sheer number of them visible as you enter Palm Springs was impressive.
Turns out that there are actually less turbines in the San Gorgonio Pass wind farm than there are at the Altamont site (2,159 vs 4,029 according to the CalWEA fast facts page), but the San Gorgonio Pass can generate more power (683 MW vs 510 MW).
This location is the oldest wind farm in the United States, with construction beginning in the 1980s. Driving through in daylight, you can see quite a range of turbines. In addition to variations in size, there are also differences in numbers of blades (mostly 3, but we also saw some with just 2), and different designs for their support (single columns and metal pylon style towers).
Powerful Winds; Powerful Sun
Arriving at our hotel in the northern part of Cathedral City, very close to Palm Springs, at night, it was abundantly clear why the wind turbines were there. The palms around the property were being bent by the winds which were howling around the building. The winds blowing toward the desert are channeled by two mountains into the Coachella valley; the Venturi effect boosting their speeds up to as much as 80 mph. That makes the entrance to the valley an ideal place for wind turbines.
During the day, the wind was much, much calmer. But the sun was bright & strong making it ideal for solar power during the day, with the wind turbines picking up the slack in the evening as the solar tails off.
In the past we’ve heard lots of complaints about wind turbines, mostly about them not being very attractive or ruining the view. Palm Springs seems to have embraced their wind turbines. The first clue about this was the art work in our hotel room. Normally, you expect these to be either generic art or local interest photography. The photo to the right shows what we had in our room: wind turbines.
In souvenir shops around downtown Palm Springs we found postcards, fridge magnets, hanging signs and even t-shirts with the turbines on them. Palm Springs has not only accepted the turbines, it has embraced them and turned them into a feature of the area to be enjoyed.
In that spirit, there is even a guided tour package that takes you around the wind farm, and up close up some of the turbines (though not actually inside them)
We agree they are beautiful machines, gently spinning in the wind.