40 years after critics had their doubts, towering turbines still whipping up interest
By Kendall Balchan
The windmills dotting the desert landscape along Interstate 10 are some of the most iconic symbols of Palm Springs. Seeing them emerge from the eastern horizon is a sign for locals that they’re almost home. They’re in company logos and even tattooed on admirers.
What started as just a new way to generate energy has turned into the Coachella Valley’s version of the Space Needle or Golden Gate Bridge.
But the windmills weren’t always welcome in the area. The idea faced some pushback from city leaders in the 1980s, with one telling The Los Angeles Times, “We don’t think tourism and industry go together … and all these windmills look like industry.”
Former President Donald Trump even claimed, “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations: Your house just went down 75% in value,” and added, “If it doesn’t blow, you can forget about television for that night.”
The critics, including Trump, couldn’t have been more wrong. Forty years after they first began to appear on the local landscape, the windmills generate not only energy, but curiosity. There’s so much interest that Fred Noble, CEO of Wintec Energy, was inspired to start a tour company in 2014 that remains the first and only one of its kind in the nation.
Annette Said, marketing director at Palm Springs Windmill Tours, estimates they see 1,000 visitors a month. Interest in the tours has remained strong, she offered, even during the pandemic, when they moved from buses to golf carts. A self-guided version of the tour is available via an app so visitors can use their own vehicles.
The content and the style of the tour were overhauled too. During a visit to the facility last week, Tour Operations Manager Dr. Tom Spiglanin, who worked in technical education in the aerospace industry for more than 30 years, said he can teach the basics of wind energy in an approachable way to elementary students. For visiting scientists, he also answers complex engineering and electrical questions in minute technical detail.
Spiglanin spends a lot of his time dispelling myths about the windmills. No, they don’t kill a lot of birds, he explained. They’re also not noisy, and all of the energy generated is not shipped off somewhere else in the state.
The tour begins with education. Guests learn how power is generated before heading out either in their own vehicle or a golf cart on a journey through the history of wind power in the San Gorgonio Pass. Visitors learn about failures and successes of the different types of windmills and the future of the industry.
That future is being shaped here in Palm Springs.
“These are all experiments from inventors trying to find a more efficient way to harvest wind energy,” Spiglanin said, pointing to several oddly shaped vertical windmills.
The future might also include fewer windmills. Newer models are bigger and more efficient, so much so that the company recently replaced more than 1,000 older windmills with only 68 modern turbines.
While most visitors are from out of town, there’s also heavy interest among locals who come for a tour after decades of driving past the windmills.
Celine and Philippe Nicolas, visiting the area from Versailles, France, toured recently. They have visited the Palm Springs area for years and were surprised to learn they could drive among the towering turbines. They found out about the tours online and wanted to try something different, instead of lounging by the pool or playing golf.
“All this time, we never thought there was a tour!” exclaimed Celine.
Another couple, Martha Wright and David Litaker from Virginia, stood beside one of the earlier windmill models, listening to the audio from the narrated app. Wright and Litaker stopped on a whim to take the tour and enjoyed learning about wind energy.
“We’re out here visiting friends,” said Wright. “We have an interest in renewable energy, and driving past the wind farm, we couldn’t miss it.”
“We’re amazed at how much wind energy California produces,” she added. “You don’t see anything like this where we are. And the few windmills that appear tend to be met with a lot of resistance.”
FREE TESTING: Curative is currently offering free COVID testing at the Palm Springs Convention Center every Monday and Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., the city announced Wednesday. A PCR test is available, not a rapid test, and results should be ready within two days. The Curative mobile van is visible and located at the corner of Avenida Caballeros and Amado Road, the main parking lot for the Convention Center located at 277 N. Avenida Caballeros. Parking is free for those taking the test. Appointments are preferred to minimize wait times and take precedence over walk-ins. Anyone being tested is asked to bring identification and an insurance card (if applicable) to the site to receive a test. There is no out-of-pocket cost for the test, and it is available for both insured and uninsured. To make an appointment, visit www.curative.com and search for “East Riverside Van: Palm Springs Convention Center.”
COD CAMPUS ESTIMATE: College of the Desert officials anticipate opening a campus in Palm Springs in roughly five years, according to a timeline contained in a presentation that will be on the agenda as its Board of Trustees meets Friday. Initially planned for land in northern Palm Springs, the campus is now being developed on a 29-acre site at the former home of Palm Springs Mall at the intersection of Baristo Road and Farrell Drive. Lack of forward progress and transparency from COD officials had drawn criticism from Palm Springs officials and the public, but assurances have since been made that a portion of nearly $600 million in voter-approved funds would be spent on completing the campus.
EXTRA PATROLS TONIGHT: Palm Springs police are reminding the community to celebrate responsibly today, citing data that shows nearly half of all traffic fatalities on St. Patrick’s Day in years past involved a drunk driver. Additional officers will be on patrol from 6 p.m. thru 2 a.m. in the city, looking for drivers suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. “Have a game plan before you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day,” Palm Springs Police Department Sgt. Arnold Galvan said. “Designate a sober driver or make other plans to get home safely.” Extra emphasis is also planned throughout Riverside County. Multiple county sheriff’s stations plan to staff sobriety checkpoints and carry out saturation patrols to nab suspected DUI offenders. The California Highway Patrol plans similar efforts throughout the state. CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray said that on St. Patrick’s Day 2021 three people were killed, and 76 injured in DUI crashes statewide. By comparison, in 2020, 31 were injured because of intoxicated driving, but there were no fatalities.
? Today’s events
- The Mizell Center offers multiple programs and classes today, starting at 8 a.m.
- The Palm Springs Public Library holds a free story time at 10:30 a.m. for preschoolers.
- The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert offers a chat group for all women — no matter how you identify — at 10:30 a.m.
- The Palm Springs Animal Shelter holds a low-cost animal vaccine clinic today at 4 p.m.
- VillageFest is happening Downtown, starting at 6 p.m. Also, there’s free admission at the Palm Springs Art Museum.
For more events in Palm Springs today, check the complete community calendar. Want your event listed? Just click here.
? What to watch for
- A Walk of Stars dedication for David C. Lee is planned for Friday at 3 p.m. On Saturday, Lee will join some of the cast of Frasier for an event designed to raise funds to help save the Plaza Theatre. That begins at 1 p.m.
- The Palm Springs Chalk Art Festival runs Saturday and Sunday outside the Palm Springs Art Museum.
- The ONE-PS Annual Neighborhood Picnic is slated for Saturday at Ruth Hardy Park.
- Palm Springs The Musical: Born to Sparkle premieres at Desert Rose Playhouse on March 24. It runs Thursdays through Sundays until April 10.
- The Palm Springs Air Museum annual gala is planned for March 25.
- Desert Ensemble Theatre begins a two-weekend run of All This Intimacy on March 25.
- A benefit for REAF-Palm Springs and the city’s AIDS Memorial Sculpture is planned for March 26 from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. at a private home in the city.
- The Negro Academic Scholarship Fund Banquet will be held March 26 at 7 p.m. Information on how to RSVP, purchase tickets, and donate can be found here.
- Palm Canyon Theatre is staging Cyrano de Bergerac from March 31 until April 3.