Governor Schwarzenegger has lobbied hard for renewable energy in California, from solar panels to wind turbines.
But all across the state, local regulations often make it too costly and time-consuming and to build windmills on residential property.
John Paul DeJoria, the co-founder of Paul Mitchell salon products, is a big fan of green energy. “I believe in wind energy,” he told NBC Los Angeles, “I think it’s going to be the answer to our energy needs in the future.”
His hilltop mansion in Malibu catches plenty of wind off the Pacific, but he said that Malibu planning authorities have blown off his efforts to set up a wind turbine on his property.
“I’ve been working on this for almost a year now,” he recalled.
By his account, the regulators have tied him up in red tape by imposing one review requirement after another to resolve seemingly endless questions: Will the turbine kill birds? Spoil the view? Generate annoying noise?
A basic permit costs around $2,000, but with all the extra hurdles thrown up by local regulators, he calculates that he will have to spend five times that amount to get his application finally approved.
A top Malibu planning official brushed off all queries from NBC Los Angeles about the problems Dejoria has encountered.
Since the standard price tag for turbine equipment and installation is $10,000, he could wind up paying $20,000 or more simply to reap the benefits of an energy source as free as the wind.
And Dejoria is not the only one who feels exploited by the permit review process.
“It dragged on for 21 months and it was so frustrating,” complained furniture designer and collector Nikki Huggins.
She and her husband built a green-friendly home in wind-blessed Topanga Canyon. They have finally got their turbine up and running, but only after battling what she described as the excessive demands and incompetence of the local regulator: the Los Angeles County Planning Commission.
“They didn’t know how to take the paperwork,” she said. “They didn’t know what to do with the paperwork and they weren’t really ready for us.”
It’s still to early to know how much the turbines will save Nikki Huggins’ family in utility costs, but every turn of the propeller rolls back the billing hours on their electricity meter. “We’re happy to have it now,” she noted, adding, “but it should not be this way.”
Huggins’ 35-foot tower was installed by turbine realtor, Robert Hayes, (prevailingwindpower.com) who is also helping John Paul DeJoria. Hayes says local regulations are stumbling blocks all across California. “They all generally put up some big barriers that are killing our industry.” .
Hayes touts wind power as a sure cost-saver for California with its great weather and wide-open spaces so friendly to surface winds. “I have a customer in a windy area,” he said, “he’s saving $250 to $300 dollars a month.”
So why the apparent pushback by local authroties? Hayes speculated that some of them might simply be trying to generate badly needed public revenue by stringing out the application process and fee requirements.
“They make money by putting up barriers,” he added, “That’s their job.”
“Not so,” said regulator John Sanabria. “We need to balance the needs of the communities.”
Sanabria heads the L.A County’s Department of Regional Planning, which finally approved Nikki Huggins’ turbine. He insisted that the deliberate consideration of turbine applications was justified – especially since the technology is so new. He also said the process includes a staff report and analysis to determine if the proposed turbine meets the Environmental Air Quality.
“If there are concerns on the part of surrounding neighbors,” he added, “ then that kicks into a larger process –which is more expensive.”
Back in Malibu, John Paul DeJoria continues to spend heavily to get his turbine application approved, in hopes, he told us, that his doggedness and high profile example will help nudge regulators into making turbines more attainable and affordable for everybody.
“Perhaps it will open up the future for others,” he said, “ and Malibu will be more, shall we say, loving when it comes to wind energy.”