Backstories of the Palm Springs Windmills—a Review

By Paul Gipe

Backstories of the Palm Springs Windmills by Thomas Spiglanin is a beautifully illustrated guide to the wind farms of the San Gorgonio Pass, one of the world’s great wind resource areas. It’s designed for visitors to Palm Springs Windmill Tours.

The San Gorgonio Pass near Palm Springs, famous as a watering hole for the rich and famous that lives there, was one of the earliest areas in California to see commercial wind development. As such, it had, and still has to a degree, an assortment of wind turbines not seen anywhere else in the world.

Spiglanin has some striking photos in Backstories. One that struck me was of Union Pacific diesel engines pulling a freight train through the pass with wind turbines and Mount San Bernadino in the background. It’s a classic San Gorgonio Photo. He’s also included pics of some derelict experimental Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines that are now part of the tour.


Backstories also helpfully takes on some of the common myths about wind turbines. (This is what I always liked about the tours. If you get people to the turbines and let them stand among them, many of the myths just melt away.) He also traces the history of both the well known projects in the pass and the lesser–or shall we say–more questionable projects as well.

The sidebar on Alaska Applied Sciences and their work with the notorious Storm Master wind turbines was a window into a bygone era. I’d photographed the return of the Storm Masters to Palm Springs in the 1990s but I never knew their backstory. Now I do, and now I know what happened to them.

Spiglanin does a good job summarizing the machinations by the city of Palm Springs to stop wind in its tracks and ultimately their about face and eventual embrace of an industry spinning out tax revenues.

Ah, but the spread on Kenetech is worth the price of the book alone. The photo of a crumpled KVS 33 is a gem for us critics of the design. The 100 turbines installed near Palm Springs stood less than two decades before they were scraped off the face of the earth and replaced with models that work.

Spiglanin, Thomas. Backstories of the Palm Springs Windmills. La Quinta, Calif.: Ansera Solutions, 2022. 58 pages. ISBN:‎ 979-8798686704. 8 x 0.14 x 10 inches. Printed in the USA.