California Energy Commission Simply Out of Touch

By Paul Gipe

I’ve had my head down working on a new book, and staying out of state and local politics in California as much as possible. It’s just too painful to watch.

Yet I couldn’t ignore this latest assault. No, it’s not our local assemblywoman’s attack on renewables with talking points directly from the Western States Petroleum Association. That’s just par for the course here in the capital of California’s oil industry.

No. It was a tone deaf image on the California Energy Commission (CEC)’s web site. I track Electric Vehicle (EV) developments in the state and I dutifully followed a link from a CEC email on a new report.

The CEC’s banner image that smacked me in the face was a beautiful picture of wind turbines on a green hilltop—spinning wind turbines in a pastoral setting. There’s nothing wrong with the image. In fact, everything is right with the image. The roads are narrow and follow the contours of the hilltop in harmony with the landscape. What’s not to like?

Except it’s not California!

Someone at the CEC saw a beautiful image of wind turbines and plastered it on the state’s web site. While I heartily endorse the use of beautiful images such as this, usage by the CEC in this manner is a form of false advertisement, no doubt out of ignorance, but false advertisement nonetheless.

First, those distinctive wind turbines are Enercon machines. There are none in California. In fact, there are none in the USA. There are Enercon wind turbines in Canada, but not here. Enercon will not sell wind turbines to anyone in the US and they have their reasons for not doing so.

Second, the obstruction markings on the towers look like those used in Italy.

While is this important? For several reasons. Most importantly, because it feeds the paranoia of our enemies. When the Koch Brothers find out about this, rightwing blogger Breitbart will be all over it. He and other anti-renewable activists will charge that the CEC is trying to deceive the public about the impact wind turbines have on the Golden State’s landscape as part of a global conspiracy to hide the unvarnished truth from hardworking taxpayers. To these fundamentalists, wind turbines are a scourge plundering the earth—not that they really care about the environment, but such charges sells more copy and makes better propaganda than simply saying the CEC picked the wrong image.

Further, the image has several subtle meanings about the US and our place in the world that would be lost on all but the most astute observers. Messages that the CEC—as a pubic entity—would probably like to avoid.

Enercon builds one of the world’s best wind turbines, but Americans can’t buy it. Canadians can and Enercon has set up shop in Canada to serve the Canadian market. Those are jobs we lost to Canada. Why can’t we buy Enercon turbines here? Don’t we believe in free trade?

For many years Enercon was prohibited from selling its wind turbine in the US because of patent dispute that Enercon lost. The case says volumes about our corrupt patent system that Enercon lost its case. I know, because I published a book in 1995 where I put into print examples of “prior art” specifically so Enercon had proof—in English—that the patent should never have been granted.

Once all the claims were eventually resolved, Enercon was free to enter the US market. However, this was post the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the George W. Bush administration. Enercon’s owner, Alois Wobben, famously declared that he wouldn’t sell his wind turbine to a country that invaded another to take their oil. As a German, Wobben knows a thing or two about wars of aggression and knows it when he sees it.

There’s a further US foreign policy connection to this photo. Italians use a distinctive system of markings on wind turbine towers to warn pilots of the wind turbines. They use these markings because an American war plane from an American air base at Italian soil sliced through the cables supporting a ski lift in the Dolomites. Italian authorities accused the American pilot of plunging the car with 20 people onboard to their deaths 260 feet below.

The tragedy is particularly troubling for Italians because the Marine Corp whisked the pilot back to the US rather than let him stand trial on Italian soil. The pilot was later acquitted, infuriating Italians because it was confirmed he was flying below his authorized elevation and at a much higher speed in an area where he shouldn’t have been.

Shortly after the accident, Italian authorities began demanding that wind turbines paint their towers in garish bands of red and white obstruction markings. These are the same markings seen on some of the wind turbines in the CEC’s banner image. We don’t use those markings in California.