The reality of wind turbines in California – video

As many know, I was on a road trip for two weeks. On my return into California, I traveled a road I had done many many times – California Highway 58 through Tehachapi pass, one of the windiest areas of California, and loaded with wind turbines like you see in this photo from which seems to be taken during 2003. All the turbines seem to be spinning.

But, the reality I encounter when I drive through there is much different than what you see in the photo above. I often drive this road, but always wished I had a video camera with me to show how many turbines are inoperable since this doesn’t show up well in still photos. Unless you have a slow shutter speed to show “blade blur”, they all look inoperable.

But this day was different. I did have a video camera with me. Plus, the day I drove through, Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 was near perfect for wind turbines. There was a front coming in, and strong winds ahead of it.

Here’s the wind data from the ASOS at the Tehachapi airport during the time I drove through:

The wind data displayed above are measured at 1000′ lower elevation than the wind turbines on the top of the ridge, where the wind velocity will be higher.

And here is what I saw of the wind turbines along the ridge top, there were quite a few inoperable on this windy day. This video was taken right about 11AM PST:

There were many more inoperable turbines, but could not be filmed from a safe vantage point along the highway. This video was take from the semi-truck staging area near the agricultural inspection station.

My best guess from the video and others I saw that I could not film is that about one in four turbines were not operating.

The problem is maintenance. The location, while perfect for wind, is treacherous for work and support equipment. Even on a flat terrain, like in Texas (shown below) where I photographed these turbines, doing maintenance on gearboxes and generators high up on a post isn’t easy.

Imagine the complications on a mountain ridge for maintenance.

On the website “tour” section, they lament the condition of the Zond (Enron) wind power sites:

Wind Plant Maintenance Items to Note

Throughout the Tehachapi-Mojave area look for turbines without nose cones, turbines without nacelles (blown off and not replaced), oil leaking from blade-pitch seals, oil leaking from gearboxes, road cuts in steep terrain, erosion gullies, non-operating turbines, and “bone piles” of junk parts. One Zond bone pile of abandoned fiberglass blades is visible on the east side of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Rd. near Oak Creek Pass. (Kern County doesn’t permit on-ground disposal of fiberglass.) While touring wind farm sites look for blowing trash and litter (plastic bags, soft-drink cups, bottles, electrical connectors, scrap bits of metal, and so on). These all reflect management’s attention to maintenance and general housekeeping. At the better sites, you won’t see any of this.

Even on the valley floor, the smaller four turbines just west of the Tehachapi airport that greet visitors who drive in from Bakersfield had a problem, and these are on flat ground and accessible:

In Palm Springs, CA, another windy place, they have similar problems:


Florida’s broken windmills:  A California problem



The permit allowing windmills to go in didn’t say they could sit there broken. Palm Springs is getting tough. If windmills are going to exist in the city they must be operational. A city that has welcomed windmills since it was first approached about them in the early 1980’s is finding that many of those windmills are no longer working and it wants them fixed. The question is who’s responsible for fixing them? Florida Power and Light (FPL), the owner of the inoperable windmills, was allowed to install and operate local windmill farms under a conditional use permit (CUP) stipulating if the windmill does not run for six months, it’s declared a public nuisance and without a hearing, must be abated.


Here’s a video showing the inside operations of a wind power facility in Washington State

And, the lack of maintenance problem is not just in California. In 2001, I visited Kamoa wind farm near Southpoint in the big island of Hawaii. The wind is so strong there, trees grow horizontal like this one:

As much as I was surprised by the horizontal trees, I was equally surprised to see dead wind turbines there. It was my first experience with a wind farm.

From this American Thinker article “Wind energy’s ghosts”:


Kamaoa Windmills 006 crop.jpg
Kamaoa Wind Farm, Hawaii. (image)

Built in 1985, at the end of the boom, Kamaoa soon suffered from lack of maintenance. In 1994, the site lease was purchased by Redwood City, CA-based Apollo Energy.

Cannibalizing parts from the original 37 turbines, Apollo personnel kept the declining facility going with outdated equipment. But even in a place where wind-shaped trees grow sideways, maintenance issues were overwhelming. By 2004 Kamaoa accounts began to show up on a Hawaii State Department of Finance list of unclaimed properties. In 2006, transmission was finally cut off by Hawaii Electric Company.


Image from

Again, like in California, Hawaii’s turbine problem is lack of maintenance.

But isn’t that the way it always has been with windmills?

It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same:


UPDATE: It appears Idaho is getting set for putting a wind power moratorium in place:

KIFI logo

State Lawmakers Look At Wind Energy Moratorium

story image

Mar 18, 2011 6:16 p.m.

BONNEVILLE COUNTY, Idaho — Construction of wind turbines may be coming to a halt in Idaho.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would prevent the construction of any new wind farm for the next two years.

Over the last year, dozens of new wind turbines have gone up on east bench just outside Idaho Falls, but many of the neighbors and their legislators want to put a temporary end to new construction.

When the legislature adopted the 2007 energy plan, it did not envision so many energy companies wanting to build wind farms in Idaho.

Bill sponsor Erik Simpson said he and both his Republican and Democratic colleagues agree they need to take a look at the long-term consequences.

“Local governments need some direction as to what should be included in some of their ordinances, recognizing some of the impacts that are out there on wind, and we need to find out what those impacts might be,” said State Affairs Committee member Tom Loertcher.

To conduct the study, the bill proposes a two-year moratorium on wind farm construction.

“It may be a problem mostly in eastern Idaho now, but it’s likely to be a problem in (other legislators’) communities as well unless we take this two year pause and study this a little more in depth,” Simpson said.

Wind power is not the cheapest way to produce energy, and lawmakers want to make sure their constituents don’t have to pay top rate.

“Utility rate payers are paying more for this unreliable intermittent energy source,” Simpson said.

Many are also concerned about the environment.

“A lot of these projects are going up in pristine wildlife areas,” Simpson said.

But not everyone agrees. Some local people like Bonneville County farmer Tory Talbot want to continue to see more turbines.

“The moratorium will basically limit businesses wanting to come into Idaho. Southeastern Idaho and southern Idaho has a huge wind energy potential,” Talbot said.

The State Affairs Committee plans to continue the debate on Monday when they hear from utility companies and energy companies.

They will then vote on whether they should move the bill to the House floor.

If the bill passes, any project already approved would be allowed to move forward.


UPDATE2: The maintenance problem also extends to Germany:


HAWT Destruction from Gearbox Failure

Gearboxes have been failing in wind turbines since the early 1990s. Barely a turbine make has escaped. The problem reached epidemic proportions with a massive series failure of gearboxes in NEG Micon machines. At the time, the NEG Micon brand was the most sold wind turbine in the world. The disaster brought the company to its knees ; It was taken over by Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, which still is challenged by gearbox and rotor failures.

As previously noted, a large number of gearboxes have had to be replaced “in large numbers.” Der Spiegel reports that the German Insurance Association is none too happy…

“In addition to generators and gearboxes, rotor blades also often display defects,” a report on the technical shortcomings of wind turbines claims. The insurance companies are complaining of problems ranging from those caused by improper storage to dangerous cracks and fractures… The frail turbines coming off the assembly lines at some manufacturers threaten to damage an industry that for years has been hailed as a wild success.

At Spiegel Online, Simone Kaiser and Michael relay a concern about installed wind turbines:

After the industry’s recent boom years, wind power providers and experts are now concerned. The facilities may not be as reliable and durable as producers claim. Indeed, with thousands of mishaps, breakdowns and accidents having been reported in recent years, the difficulties seem to be mounting. Gearboxes hiding inside the casings perched on top of the towering masts have short shelf lives, often crapping out before even five years is up. In some cases, fractures form along the rotors, or even in the foundation, after only limited operation. Short circuits or overheated propellers have been known to cause fires. All this despite manufacturers’ promises that the turbines would last at least 20 years.


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Isn’t that where all the ‘green’ jobs are? Fixing them? I guess the cost wasn’t worth it…..go figure…

JRR Canada

And the subsidy or tax credit ran out. Govt expertise at work again


I’ve spent time in both Tehachapi and Palm Springs over the last 20 years, as well as driving through Mojave on Highway 14, so I too have observed the windmills and wondered the same thing.
Why are so many not operating?
On a trip to Palm Springs one summer back around 2005 or ’06, it was 118deg F, and I really didn’t understand why there was a significant percentage of windmills not operating along the highway and on the adjacent hills going into town. As I recall the number was roughly 1 in 6? I could be wrong there, but it was so many that it got my attention. At a peak demand time of day, temperatures in the deadly range, and windmills sitting idle.
In both winter and summer you’ll see similar percentages in the hills surrounding Tehachapi/Mojave. As Anthony claims, in the pass on 58 the hills are thick with windmills, and many aren’t moving.
So the simple question is: If they’re so good, why aren’t they working?

Dave Wendt

And just think, we only have to build 10 to 15 times more of these wonderful devices to approach the 20% of generating capacity which is the supposed goal of all these various kickback and subsidy programs. On the plus side it would turn out to be quite a green jobs program if we did it. It would likely take between a quarter and a third of the entire national workforce working overtime to keep them all well maintained and operational.

Stephen Rasey

turbines without nose cones, turbines without nacelles (blown off and not replaced), oil leaking from blade-pitch seals, oil leaking from gearboxes, road cuts in steep terrain, erosion gullies, non-operating turbines, and “bone piles” of junk parts.
Immediately what comes to mind are images of gold mine tailings littering the mountain valley walls in Colorado. I guess today we are looking at the aftermath of a public subsidy gold rush in wind farms.


Those things are a blight on the countryside…

CRS, Dr.P.H.

Anthony, I once drove north from Fresno to San Francisco, about 1988 or so, and saw an immense pass filled with these things. As you also noticed, I was stunned by how many were inoperable.
These things are a blight and should be outlawed.

King of Cool

Notwithstanding the maintenance problems what about that visual pollution!
What a way to destroy a beautiful landscape. And how many dead birds were there?
Or does the noise frighten them all away?


You are dead right Anthony maintinance is an issue!


“oil leaking from blade-pitch seals, oil leaking from gearboxes,”
hmmmm… aren’t the Greens wanting to shutdown our use of oil as well?

Bill Garote

I always figured the turbines near Palm Springs were just business write offs for the super rich. Fly out and “Inspect your equipment” and then spend the rest of the time drinking and playing golf with the other super rich.


Noisy contraptions!

John F. Hultquist

Do you know the story for the last photo?
Locally our wind turbines are anchored to buried concrete masses. These are all relatively new. They could not tip like this one. That one that is tipped over looks as though it is attached to a slab not thicker than a driveway. Does it have a smaller deep-root that does not show in the photo? I’ve seen shallow rooted trees tipped out of the ground when the ground is saturated and there is strong wind. There is something wrong about the structure in that photo!

mike g

I imagine it’ll take subsidies to do maintenance on them. It’ll probably cost more money to maintain them than they’ll earn in revenue.

Dave Wendt

And in the video, besides the ones that aren’t moving, I thought I spotted at least a couple that were counter rotating, indicating that they were actually drawing power off the grid. From what I’ve seen this type of failure is also fairly common.

Geoff Sherrington

Am I missing something? Is this before or after the windmills were hit by an earthquake/tsunami sequence?
Before you answer smugly that windmills are on hills above tsunami levels, remember that the transmission lines and access roads are often unprotected. Then there’s the off-shore wind farms …… How many would have survived a Richter scale 9.0 plus a 7 metre high tsunami as in Japan last week? My guess is, none.

Baa Humbug

The visual pollution is depressing.
Where are the good environmentalists when you need ’em?
p.s. Those huge concrete blocks? They will be there for ever, never to be dug up.

Charlie Foxtrot

High maintenance and the high employment that results is one of the “advantages” of wind power (remember the promise of five million green jobs, but then they never defined what qualifies as a green job). One documentary I happened to see said that a crew of three was required for every 6 windmills. I suspect they will not age well, too many high stress moving parts. Changing an oil seal on a blade must be a real trick. Has anyone seen an estimated useful life? I wonder if they pay off their initial cost before they start slinging blades around the countryside. Also very hazardous for the mechanics, I would think, given the heights and size of the parts.
On a trip from Boise to Portland, following I84 through the Columbia Gorge, one passes numerous wind farms. I never counted, but there are perhaps a thousand mills within view from the highway. Normally, the gorge is one of the windiest places on earth. Forty MPH continuous winds can be encountered, and I have. But on a day last fall, there was no wind, and virtually none of the windmills were (or is it was) turning. The trip through the gorge takes several hours, and the situation did not change during that time. This might not be normal, but it does happen. Hot standby power will always be needed, which negates much of the supposed advantages of the windmills. They also have issues in ice storms and ice fog, or extreme wind, all requiring shutdown.


Baa Humbug says: “p.s. Those huge concrete blocks? They will be there for ever, never to be dug up.”
What basis do you have for saying that? Windfarm leases call for removal of all equipment and foundations and restoration to approximate original grade. But even if they’re not removed, this land isn’t likely to be needed for much. It’s mostly desert, not suitable for farming, except sheep, sagebrush, juniper bushes, rattlesnakes.
Here’s a wind map of California. The relevant location is slightly west of halfway between B-town and Barstow, not far from my brother-in-law’s place. As you can see, that area was chosen wisely. Unfortunately, the wind doesn’t always blow, and, when it does, the utilities don’t always need the electricity!

Claude Harvey

The best of them in the best locations seldom exceed 30% capacity factor. That means to get an average of 30Kw (at best) out of the windmills you must install 100Kw machines. Then it gets worse: IEEE figures on industry reported O&M costs show wind machines running horrendous expenses that total approximately half of the average wholesale rate of electric power at the trading hubs. Those transmissions and blade feathering mechanisms will really eat your lunch. Add it all up and you’ll find they’re economic dogs that live off taxpayer subsidies in the form of investment tax credits, accelerated depreciation and depletion allowances (how can you deplete the wind?)

martin brumby

Difficult to maintain?
Hazardous work?
So how are we going to manage in the UK with the tens of thousands of turbines planned ‘offshore’, up to 50 miles away from land, in the middle of the North Sea? At a knock down price of at least €150 Billion over the next 10 years.
That should present some interesting maintenance and repair challenges.
Meanwhile the 3000 turbines we already have produce less than 2% of our electricity averaged over 2010.
The people who promote BigWind (not least Buff Huhne and his predecessor Eddie Millipede) are either breathtakingly incompetent (the greenies and politicians) or blatantly dishonest (the companies who build the wretched things).

Mike McMillan

I flew over Altamont pass many times out of SFO back in the 90’s, and seldom saw more than a fraction of the turbines turning.

dave Harrison

You don’t see that this all panned by the greens – to save birds of prey – that is one in four hawks that are not killed!

John Q Public

If they made economic sense, you would think the maintenance work would be done. When the return is < 0% they rust apart once the grant money stops.

P. Solar

Geoff Sherrington says:
Then there’s the off-shore wind farms …… How many would have survived a Richter scale 9.0 plus a 7 metre high tsunami as in Japan last week? My guess is, none.
There again probably no one would be stupid enough to build an off-shore wind farm in fault line susceptible to have a mag 9 event. They save those sites for clusters of nuclear reactors. The other difference worth if you want to make stupid comments is that if you have an oil leak on the gear box of wind turbine , you don’t need to evacuate half a million people. Neither are “bone yards” of old turbine blades going to be a major danger to all life-forms for the next few hundred , thousand years. No Yucca mountains needed.
Neither is the pollution of broken turbines likely to cause problems like BP created in the Gulf of Mexico.
More seriously though , this random, perhaps non representative report is not encouraging. Clearly this is picking out worst cases to make the point. Pictures of well maintained sites would be boring. Maybe a survey like surfacestations project would be interesting.
It’s noteworthy that one of the sites is run by Enron. What is their interest is wind? What’s their reason for investing? Maybe a few photo ops to put on their PR literature, tax-credits, hopes of carbon trading offsetting oil pollution. Whatever their financial motives it is quite likely that producing electricity was not their aim so maintenance at the site is not important.
This case alone seems to suggest badly structured subsidies are letting corporations cream of a nice profit without the need to actually produce any power.
But nuclear power is not profitable without subsidies either , it just makes a bigger mess when site maintenance isn’t done or a generator gets flooded.

P. Solar

There’s some turbines not far from here. I’ll pop out later and see how many are moving.

Brian Johnson uk

Slightly off thread but did the Japanese Earthquake ‘kill’ any wind turbines [ I am assuming the Japanese would have such devices?]


The I-10 pass out of Southern California holds the first large scale wind-farm project in the U.S. On the east side you have Palm Springs, on the West, the 909 and greater Southern California. They’ve *always* had maintenance problems. The maintenance issues are far worse there, since this entire area houses something like 5-10 different windmill designs. It was a testing bed for windmill design. This pass is windy 95% of the time, and the direction is nearly always West-to-East. However, you’ll never see all of the blades spinning at once. If you’re lucky you’ll find a bank on the eastern edges that has a lot of them spinning.
This farm has been in operation since the early 90s, we knew then this idea was absurd. The greens pushed it anyway.

Phillip Bratby

John F. Hultquist says:
March 19, 2011 at 9:55 pm
The concrete foundations are just reinforced concrete blocks; they are not anchored to bedrock. They cannot be inspected. They can rock due to prolonged stresses in all directions and the whole edifice can eventually topple over (see the Caithness information refernced by PaulC).
In the UK, part of the planning permission is that above-ground work must be removed after the life is over, but the concrete is left in the ground.


Why can’t we send in Greenpeace to fix them ?
Oh, now I remember. They study soft sciences, like sociology and such things.
Cannot be used to fix real problems in the real world.


Every time I see any footage of any windfarm anywhere in the world, I can always count at least 10-15 windturbines standing still (roughly at least about 15%), so this does not surprise me one bit.
The greenies are very happy to report that the earthquake in Japan did not damage any of the windturbines in Japan. Just Duckduckgo “windturbines earthquake japan”. The other story would be how much energy those windturbines are actually generating compared to the “promised” levels.


jorgekafkazar says:
March 19, 2011 at 11:23 pm
Baa Humbug says: “p.s. Those huge concrete blocks? They will be there for ever, never to be dug up.”
What basis do you have for saying that? Windfarm leases call for removal of all equipment and foundations and restoration to approximate original grade.
jorgekafkazar, I guess someone forgot to tell some of these places. At any rate, if the owners go broke, so what. Law is not wealth, and one who is broke cannot fund removal.

Alberta Slim

martin brumby says………
“The people who promote BigWind (not least Buff Huhne and his predecessor Eddie Millipede) are either breathtakingly incompetent (the greenies and politicians) or blatantly dishonest (the companies who build the wretched things).”
So true. I find it difficult to believe that the UK has a population that keeps voting in these people.
It appears that the new Gov’t is a CINO gov’t [conservative in name only]
Is there any hope for the UK?
Australia seems to be not too far behind.

David L

GBees says:
March 19, 2011 at 9:44 pm
“oil leaking from blade-pitch seals, oil leaking from gearboxes,”
hmmmm… aren’t the Greens wanting to shutdown our use of oil as well?”
Don’t worry: it’s natural carbon neutral whale oil.


Er, thanks for the video, perhaps? I now have to go and lie down until the ground stops spinning. Having 20 security lines would not have been enough for me to climb out there as what guarantee do I have that the railings would not pull out?
It’s too Tarpeian Rock for me.

P. Solar

Does anyone know where there is some production data from Tehachapi or Horse Hallow wind farms. All I can find are “installed” power figures.
It would be interesting to see how much that plant was generating on the day Anthony passed through.

If the greenies manage to kill nuclear, fossil fuel and hydro (trust me, they are trying because of the impact to fish reproduction) and we have to depend on wind and solar, then we will soon be back to a pre-industrial society.
It makes me wonder if that is what they really want anyway.


I am a retired airline pilot. One of the things I found interesting was to look down at the places with windmills and see how many were operating. The Palm Springs area, which is under one of the normal arrival routes to LAX, was a good example where on a typical day, only a small percentage would be moving even slowly. I visited a friend there, a retired EE, so the tour included the wind farms. Sure enough, many of them were being repaired, or “feathered” awaiting repairs.


Yep. Wind and solar both would require thousands upon thousands of units to have any hope of making a significant dent in our energy appetite. It’d be a maintenance nightmare. Yet, the topic seems never to be considered in all the pie-in-the-sky projections.

wayne Job

Small scale wind generators are fine, the American pioneer and inventor truely made excellent units. Mr Jacobs I believe was the manufacturer, one was left unattended in Antarctica for some twenty years with no problems. Perhaps these wind generators are made to a price and not a quality for all the scam merchants looking for a government hand out. I do believe that I could design one that would be mechanically reliable for a hundred years. To many fingers in pies I think.


Hi there jorgekafkazar,
Do you understand the concept of return on investment?
Would you like to invest your superannuation money in a wind farm?
It probably is.


martin brumby says:
March 19, 2011 at 11:43 pm
“So how are we going to manage in the UK ………..”
Here is an interesting read:
The application for a permit was lodged on 3 June 2005, consent was given on 18 December 2006 and the first foundation monopole and transition piece was installed at position C18 on Monday 7 March 2011.
Progress can be monitored weekly at:
They only way this can succeed is out of the wallet of the poor electricity bill payer.
So, 635MW installed by the end of 2012 and then the juice from this folly will cost £80/MWh compared to about £12/MWh from a proper coal-fired power station. (IIRC – can anybody give a link to support these figures?)
Off-shore wind is obviously a very lucrative scam for lucky promotors as “Firms jump on UK offshore wind bandwagon”, see:
Trebles all round.


They’ll be using vegetable oil……….. .

Bryan A

Many of the Non-spinning turbines aren’t necessarily non-operable. Like so many generation sites throughout California, some of the capacity is held in reserve. Some of the Hydroelectric turbines at Dam Powerhouses also sit idle during portions of the day. This is often the case because demand levels don’t support 100% utilization of every source of generation. This also serves to prolong the useful life of generators. The time to worry about unused generation capacity is on days that peak demand warrants the possibility of rolling blackouts and generation capacity is only operating at 70%. This would be a problem. But 60 or 70% or even 50% operating isn’t unheard of for most days.

Jack Hughes

The UK prime minister’s father-in-law owns 8 windmills near Scunthorpe. Very rare to see all 8 turning.


I, too have driven through the pass above Palm Springs and have seen the numbers of idled blades. From an electric industry perspective, here’s the other inconvenient truth. Capacity from a wind turbine is heavily discounted by the local RTO, because the engineers KNOW that wind…well, it’s poetically fickle. Also, that wind blows mostly at night….when electricity demand is at its lowest. And what about the hottest peak day of the year? Yep, you got it, usually the wind ain’t blowing. There are some very smart people in utility dispatch centers pulling their hair out these days trying to integrate wind into the grid and are having a devil of a time. Cheers.

Smoking Frog

Lots of people, including me, have seen non-operating wind turbines, and I’ll bet lots of them, like me, foolishly thought they just happened to be seeing an unusual situation.

Gareth Phillips

To be fair you would have to compare the percentage of wind turbines not working at any time, with the amount of downtime or non-functioning of other energy resources. I suspect any energy generating system is not operating at 100% at all times. Any one have any useful stats?


Is the UK government also finally dealing with reality? Are we slowly seeing a return to sanity?

BBC – 18 March 2011
UK solar panel subsidies slashed
“The UK government has proposed cuts of up to 70% to the feed in tariff for large scale solar energy production.
The proposal would be implemented on the 1 August, reducing payments to farmers or owners of large commercial buildings.
The industry has reacted with anger to the proposal.
And investors have warned that cutting the scheme just a year after it was created will deter further investment in renewable energy.”

What many are not aware of is that to function modern turbines must have live current going to them, making them useless in a blackout. Last year I drove through a huge wind farm in Southern Spain. Approximately half the turbines were dead, even though there was a very useful breeze blowing. They are next to useless as a power source. Lots of info here