The impact on the habitat and the destruction of view weren't the only effects of a possible wind farm that residents and the Sierra Club worried about. "We worry about wind farms," Fuller says, "because in some areas there have been significant deaths of birds and bats due to collisions with wind turbines, getting hit by the blades."
On Volcan Mountain, bats would be a particular worry because the hundreds of old gold mines that pock the landscape are known to house the flying mammals. "Some bat biologists have said," Fuller explains, "that wind farms could be the cause of whole species of bats becoming extinct."
Mike Azeka says that contention "doesn't pass the reasonable test. What she is reacting to is, there are two wind farms, one in Pennsylvania and one in West Virginia, where they have documented high numbers of bat kills. But there are hundreds of wind farms that have no or low bat kills. There are rigorous scientific fatality studies where they take existing wind farms and biologists have gone out...and they've done 12-month studies to figure out whether these turbines are killing birds and bats. Our company has done those on a lot of our projects, and other companies have done them on a lot of projects, and the California Energy Commission has done it on a lot of projects. In the Palm Springs area, they found zero dead bats on 813 turbines that were searched for a year. In Tehachapi and in Mojave they found zero bats."
As for birds, Azeka says, "Same kind of situation. We have been seeing very small numbers, like single digits of individual species over the course of a year for hundreds of wind turbines. But Altamont [in Northern California] has a problem. We have a high number of fatalities of raptors up there. It is a concern, and the industry is taking significant steps to address it. They have figured out which turbines are more likely to cause fatalities, and we are shutting them down in the winter months when the fatalities are occurring."
Though the blades have stopped turning on the Julian windmill idea, Texas-based Superior Renewable Energy has built 25 wind turbines on the Campo Indian Reservation, near the town of Boulevard. (Superior has since sold the project to Australian investment firm Babcock and Brown.) The 300-foot windmills -- each of which can produce enough electricity to power 2000 homes -- are visible from Interstate 8. The 136-foot blades are scheduled to begin turning by Christmas. Other wind power companies have erected test towers in Warner Springs, Campo, Jacumba, and McCain Valley and on Mount Laguna and the Viejas Reservation. But don't be alarmed, Azeka says. The presence of anemometers does not mean that windmills will be put on all or any of these locations. "We looked at San Diego," he explains, "and we determined that only one-quarter of 1 percent of the land in San Diego County -- that doesn't have houses or isn't military or national forest land -- could possibly be windy enough."