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Tuesday, Oct 22 2013 06:00 AM

Supervisiors OK deal to dim distracting turbine lights

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Red lights atop wind turbines dot the skyline in Mojave along Highway 58, but many will soon be shut off after the Kern County Board of Supervisors struck a deal with energy companies and the Federal Aviation Administration. Gregory D. Cook / Tehachapi News

Kern County supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 15, cheered a deal that will shut off long strings of powerful red beacons mounted on top of wind turbines in the massive wind fields between Tehachapi and Mojave.

"I'm pleased to announce that 227 lights will be turned off, which is over 64 percent," said Kern County Planning director Lorelei Oviatt.

And future wind energy developments will build lights onto wind turbines under the new plan.

Supervisors thanked wind energy companies, planners and consultants for working to get the Federal Aviation Administration -- which regulated the lights -- to support the change.

But they thanked Stuart Witt, CEO of the Mojave Air and Space Port, for pushing passionately for the change.

Witt called the red beacons "light pollution" borne out of a reasonable regulation gone wrong.

He said the lights were supposed to be a safety measure for pilots. But they turned into a very distracting pattern of glaring red that baffled pilots trying to make a final approach to one of the desert airport's runways.

Witt thanked the county for getting done what he could not.

John Clancy, with ClancyJG International, the consultant who studied the problem and pulled together the solution, said the effort was uniquely successful.

He said his group made two trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby the FAA on the issue. They managed to get the FAA to visit Mojave.

"We chartered a plane," Clancy said. "We flew them out to the area and they were totally amazed by what they saw."

The lights were strung out over miles, blinking from the top of turbines spaced just a few towers apart from each other.

Ultimately, the FAA agreed only to keep the lights on the turbines at the perimeter of the sea of wind machines in the area.

Tuesday's action clears the way for the lights to be shut off by the wind energy companies who control the turbines.

Randy Hoyle with Terra-Gen Power said the lights should be turned off within two weeks.

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