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Kumeyaay harness wind for energy

A new renewable energy project in San Diego boasts many firsts. It's the largest wind project on Native American land in the country and the first large-scale wind farm in San Diego in more than two decades. Reporter Rebecca Tolin has more.

Mike Connolly, Campo Kumeyaay Nation Council Member: "We're famous for our winds."

Joyce Papeech, GSG Wind Energy President: "When you're coming up the road and see 'windy area' on a road sign, that's a really good indication that you have a good spot."

The wind isn't wasted these days around this blustery stretch of East County. It's powering these towering wind turbines, 25 new inhabitants atop the Tecate divide. Each giant generator is taller than a twenty story building, and sleeker than a skyscraper. You don't realize how big these turbines are until you get up close. Each tower is 218 feet tall. And at the top, the blades are 136 feet long.

John Dunlop, American Wind Energy Association: "The diameter of these turbines is greater than the length of a football field if you were to lay the turbine down. They're enormous. So from that standpoint, these are much larger than the typical turbine being installed in California."

John Parker, Alaska Renewable Energy Association: "These are big turbines. There is no doubt about it. They're 2 Megawatt turbines and they're huge."

These turbines are the largest in America today. All 25 will produce enough electricity to power 12,000 homes, for 30,000 people. That's caught the attention of wind experts around the country, who recently toured the Kumeyaay wind project.

Papeech: "Here you have such beautiful hills, and to be able to come up here and really appreciate the land and what's here that you might not see if you weren't looking at the wind turbines."

Joyce Papeech from the farm country of Illinois and John Parker from oil-rich Alaska both hope to emulate parts of the project in their home state.

Parker: "I came down here with the Wind Energy Association for a conference to learn how this project was negotiated and cited and see if I can take some of that information back to Alaska."

Like California, Alaska has much tribal land. So Parker is especially intrigued by the partnership between industry and San Diego's Campo tribe.

Connolly: "If you count when we originally looked at wind energy, it's been over 15 years."

Mike Connolly is a council member for the Campo Kumeyaay nation. His tribe is leasing three square miles of land to private investors for the wind project. Rental income and a portion of electricity sales will help the 300 member tribe strengthen its economy.

Connolly: "Gaming may change, it may not be around. We have to be ready to adapt to changing conditions. One of our goals is to diversify our economic base so this is a good step in that direction."

Connolly says it's a gamble to rely solely on gaming. The Golden Acorn casino is the tribe's largest source of income. The campo tribe sees wind power as a financial opportunity that aligns with its concerns about environmental degradation and foreign oil dependence.

Connolly: "Wind has really turned a corner and gotten to within competitive range. It's still not as competitive as getting some dirty coal out of the ground and throwing it into a furnace, but with the incentives that are out there, it's become very competitive."

Dunlop: "Our values are we want to have clean energy to replace fossil fuels for a variety of reasons. Wind energy is the most cost effective renewable energy technology to produce electricity today. And consequently, that's why wind energy leads all over renewable energy technologies."

Nationwide, Dunlop says wind energy has grown more than thirty percent each year for the past five years, with almost three billion dollars in new wind projects for 2005. Experts say government incentives, new technology and dwindling oil supplies are fueling a wind revolution.

Neal Emmerton, Babcock & Brown Project Manager: "SDG&E will buy the wind energy which will go directly into the grid through the Crestwood substation. It will be used by used by residents anywhere in San Diego but will likely stay here in East County. Most of all of this energy is going to be for local use. Anything that we produce that is too much to be held or used locally will be transmitted in to San Diego."

Neal Emmerton is with Babcock and Brown, the primary investor in the 80 million dollar wind farm. He says wind is good business in a region hungry for reliable, clean energy. Place the turbines in a windy place and they will spin, 20 years guaranteed - with no pollution.

Dunlop: "It doesn't pollute the air, it doesn't pollute the ground. It doesn't leave waste after the project is out and there's no reason to remove the project because the wind is here forever."

The biggest concern is that birds will fly into the rotating tips - moving up to 122 miles per hour. And some complain the winged pillars obstruct the rugged mountain view. But others see beauty in harnessing the spirit of the wind.

Connolly: "I've heard them described as awesome and majestic."

Papeech: "I think it's beautiful to see all of these turbines in a row knowing they're producing clean energy. And to come up here and be able to look all around and know that as I was driving up the road, it kind of gave something different to look at as well."

Nationwide, Dunlop says wind energy has grown more than thirty percent each year for the past five years - supplying residential power to almost 7 million people in 2005. That's up from 1.6 million people in 2000.

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