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At a certain point along the 10 Freeway rows of giant, steel, windmills appear. Some are spinning furiously while others are frozen in place.
They seem to go on forever, possibly numbering in the thousands, and often trigger questions.
Why are some of these windmills spinning, but others not?
Is wind energy effective?
Do these giant steel contraptions kill birds?
And just how many of these things are there in the desert?
By the time most people arrive at their hotel, and order a drink by the pool, these questions disappear and the windmills are forgotten.
What if there was a way to learn all about these windmills and the wind energy industry? And what if it was possible to get up close to one of these machines and appreciate its size and capability?
It turns out that Palm Springs Windmill Tours offers an educational opportunity to learn about these windmills, the wind energy they produce, and to see them up close.
About the tour
The tour begins in a trailer along a dusty road in Palm Springs. I was almost blown over by the strong winds getting out of my car. This was clearly not going to be a good hair day.
After checking-in, guests were asked to be seated for the first part of the tour which is a talk about wind energy. Our guide, Randy, covered the history of wind power in the United States, the evolution of wind turbines (the technical term used for windmills) and how the wind is harnessed for energy in our homes and businesses. Along the walls of the trailer are photos of different models of wind turbines.
Next we went outside to see some of the components of a wind turbine up close. Here there was a gearbox as well as the rotors and blades of several turbines no longer in use.
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We then boarded the bus which was thankfully air conditioned (this is the desert afterall, so summer temperatures are regularly over 100 degrees). Over the course of the next hour we made several stops to help further our understanding of the wind industry.
The cost of the tour is $49 per person with discounts available for seniors, students and children.
Book your Palm Springs Windmill Tour today!
About wind energy and the Palm Springs windmills
The benefits of wind energy are impressive; it’s clean, cheap and inexhaustible. No water is required in its production and no carbon dioxide emissions are created.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, here’s how it works;
“When the wind blows past a wind turbine, its blades capture the wind’s kinetic energy and rotate, turning it into mechanical energy. This rotation turns an internal shaft connected to a gearbox, which increases the speed of rotation by a factor of 100. That spins a generator that produces electricity.”
All the wind farms in Palm Springs are located in the San Gorgonio pass which is essentially a naturally occurring wind tunnel. Geological conditions like this all over the world permit the placement of wind farms. While on shore wind farms are the most common in the U.S., off-shore farms are very common in other parts of the world, most notably Europe.
Wind turbines do not spin all the time. Typically the wind must be at least 7-10 miles per hour to begin producing energy, but turn off if winds exceed 50 miles per hour.
Commonly Asked Questions
So now it’s time to answer some of the most common questions about the Palm Springs windmills;
- Why are some spinning and others aren’t? Most commonly, wind turbines are turned off when they need maintenance, or are scheduled to be removed.
- Is wind effective? Yes. The low cost combined with renewability makes wind energy highly effective.
- Do wind turbines harm birds? A study conducted in 2014 found that between 200,000 and 350,000 birds are killed each year due to wind turbines. However, this is a small fraction of bird deaths compared to those killed by power lines and cell towers. It’s also important to note that wind energy does not add to the conditions creating climate change which is very harmful to birds, and in some cases threatens the existence of certain species.
- Finally, one of my most burning questions, how many windmills are there in Palm Springs? Currently there are 2,100.
Date shakes at the Windmill Market
Towards the end of the tour comes a stop at the Windmill Market, which is billed as offering the best date shake in the desert. It was a darn good shake and on a really hot day, it was also much appreciated.
This little market, located in North Palm Springs, is definitely worth a stop if you are in the area. It sells a variety of fresh dates, has a deli and offers a charming patio in the back for enjoying whatever treats you’ve purchased.
Getting up close to the wind turbines
Standing beneath a wind turbine is quite a different perspective than whizzing past them on the 10 Freeway at 70 miles per hour.
Our final stop of the tour was at the two largest turbines in the Palm Springs area, both made by the Danish company, Vestas. Each measures 262 feet tall. They are so tall that it’s difficult to look up at them without straining your neck. But what’s surprising is how quiet the blades are while spinning through the air. Only a soft “whir” could be heard.
Over the years wind turbines have become larger and more powerful resulting in the need for fewer. At one time there were more than 4,000 in the area, today 2,100, and eventually its estimated that just 1,000 will suffice.
This tour finally satisfied my curiosity about the Palm Springs windmills. I came away much more knowledgeable about the fastest growing energy source in the world. This is a great addition to any visit to the Coachella Valley!
Learn all about wind energy and book your Palm Springs Windmill Tour.