As you enter the Manzanita Indian Reservation north of Boulevard, the Kumeyaay Wind Farm turbines can be seen from the road. They stretch across the hillside, resembling skyscraper versions of pinwheels placed in springtime gardens.
The 25 wind turbines stand side-by-side. They are the size of 20-story buildings, with 218-foot-tall towers and 141-foot blades. The gentle whooshing sound combines with spinning shadows tossed against the ground to produce a hypnotic feeling. They look serene.
Turbines owned by the Campo Tribe are on the Campo Reservation, which borders the Manzanita Reservation.
Ginger Thompson, a Manzanita tribal member, owns a home less than a football field away from the turbines. Since the construction of the wind farm, Thompson and her neighbors have complained about serious health issues. Thompson recently had part of her kidney removed after being diagnosed with kidney cancer. She and a handful of her neighbors were invited to participate in a Cal State San Marcos medical study to determine if their ailments are linked to the turbines.
An epidemiologist tested the homes that sit closest to the wind turbines on the Manzanita Reservation, confirming the presence of unconventional levels of electrical current, electromagnetic fields, and electromagnetic interference with power quality.
“A lot of tribal members got their houses tested after they found out about the different cancers going around,” Thompson says. “It scared people. We don’t want to panic. We just want to know what is going on, what these [wind turbines] produce, and if they’re harming us.”
Epidemiologist Dr. Samuel Milham, adjunct professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and author of Dirty Electricity, visited the Manzanita Reservation twice to measure ground, air, and building stray voltage. He found that those living on the reservation are exposed to levels of transient voltage a thousand times higher than normal in their air and soil. Milham reports that the turbines produce enough dirty energy to sufficiently increase the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and attention-deficit disorder.
Thompson sits in a low-backed chair in the conference room at the Southern Indian Health building on the La Posta Reservation, where she works. Through a picture window, Kumeyaay windmills spin on the chaparral-covered hillside.
Thompson motions their way. “Soon, we are going to be surrounded from ridge to ridge to mountaintop by those things. We need more information, true information, not the information these companies cherry [pick] for us.”
After her cancer diagnosis in November 2012, Thompson began taking precautions. She no longer allows her 11-year-old granddaughter to play outside in the yard without her shoes on. Before going to bed, Thompson makes sure all the electronics in her room and her granddaughter’s room are unplugged.
“I worry that this stuff is getting in my water, the air, the dirt in the ground. Am I safe in my home? When I go to bed, I unplug everything, because of the extra energy coming through. If you are sleeping next to an outlet, that energy enters the body. It might be extreme, but why take chances?”
Thompson and her granddaughter recently bought seeds to plant a garden to grow their own fruits and vegetables, but she is rethinking that idea.
“I don’t think it’s safe to consume the food I would grow. I’m not going to take that risk until I am sure that the [energy produced by the turbines isn’t] going to cause a health risk.”
Especially aggravating to Thompson are the shadows cast inside her home from the turbine blades. She used to have sheer curtains in her kitchen window, with a view of the mountains surrounding her land. She had to switch them for thick ones that block out the sun. “The shadows of the turbines swooping drives me crazy,” she says. “It makes me dizzy.”
Thompson has experienced health issues apart from the cancer. “Since the turbines, my granddaughter and I are tired all the time. My allergies are heightened. My eyes are watering constantly. When I get off the mountain to go on vacation, after a couple of days away from the [Sunrise] Powerlink and the turbines, I’m back to normal.”
Despite her concerns, Thompson plans to stay put. “I can’t afford to move. My house is paid for. Besides, I love my property. I am surrounded by relatives. My heritage is here.”
She isn’t angry that the turbines were built. Initially, like many others, she believed they were a good alternative. She points to a lack of public education by the green-energy companies.
“We had no say in them going up. They just appeared one day.” Thompson shrugs. “The only thing we can do is try to stop more from going in. We need more honest literature to read on the turbines. The information we get is so limited. I want these corporations and investors to tell us exactly what is going on. They are claiming these are safe and don’t cause health problems. I don’t think the turbines are green. I believe they are what are called ‘bad energy.’ They want to make a profit off [the turbines] at our expense.”
Three miles away, on the other side of I-8, Boulevard resident Don Bonfiglio is also impacted by the Kumeyaay Wind Farm.
“The sound they produce is driving me crazy,” he says. We’re sitting at a table in the Manzanita Diner, off Old Highway 80 in the center of Boulevard. It’s a Saturday afternoon, and we share the restaurant with one other patron.
“The first time I noticed it was in the middle of the night,” Bonfiglio says. “I heard this humming noise and couldn’t sleep. I thought it was my fridge. It sounded like it was coming from my ceiling. It was like someone was mowing their yard down the block. I shut everything off and looked around. It was driving me nuts. I went outside at 3:00 in the morning to look around. I walked toward the motel. But it wasn’t there. I walked to the other corner, but there was nothing there. I walked a mile to find the source of the noise. Finally, I realized it was the turbines.”