article-imageAbandoned Solar Two Tower (photograph by Marcin Wichary)

Like the vanished, money making dreams that spawned them, it can be hard to find abandoned solar and wind farms.

The most impressive are in the United States, where investors slammed up wind turbines and solar panels in the aftermath of the 1970s energy crisis. Everyone expected oil to get even more expensive, and government subsidies and tax breaks for renewable energy were easy to get. But oil prices didn’t climb as anticipated, and as the subsidies went away, so too did many developers of wind and solar farms, no longer interested when the money wasn’t right. Projects were sold, or left in the sun and wind.

Solar panels and wind turbines are not brick, concrete, or stone. They’re relatively easy to remove, and most are built with a plan to tear them down at some point. But there are a few places you can still go to wander among abandoned dreams of wind and light.


THERE FOR ALL TO SEE

Tehachapi and Altamont Wind Energy Areas
California

article-imageTehachapi wind turbines (photograph by TomSaint11/Wikimedia)

Tehachapi and Altamont are the granddaddies of them all — sites of a 1970s-1980s wind energy rush gone wrong. Federal subsidies sparked developers into action, crowding what are now considered antique, poorly functioning turbines into particularly windy areas of California.

At Tehachapi in hapless Kern County, north of Los Angeles, officials had no provision in law requiring developers to cover the future tear-down costs of the wind turbines. At first, that may not have seemed like a big deal. But the federal tax breaks soon dried up and the developers vanished, leaving behind thousands of rusty, cranking turbines standing in rows like soldiers on the windy plain outside Tehachapi.

article-imageTehachapi Pass Wind Farm (photograph by Ikluft/Wikimedia)

Estimates vary on how many of the turbines in the Tehachapi area are defunct. Some range as high as 4,000, but others are lower. No matter how many are abandoned, Tehachapi is definitely a wind turbine boneyard.

To get there:
For a loop drive with great view of the area’s turbines, drive south from Tehachapi on Tehachapi Willow Springs Road, hang a left on Oak Creed Road heading east to Mojave. Take Highway 58 north and west back toward Tehachapi to complete the loop.

article-image Altamont Pass Wind Farm (photograph by David J Laporte)

In Altamont, one hour’s drive east of San Francisco, California, there are approximately 5,000 wind turbines. All were installed in the early 1980s in the wake of generous federal and state subsidies for renewable energy. Subsequent decades have brought larger, more efficient wind turbines, but there are plenty of aged turbines in the Altamont area, with their telltale lattice-work towers.

The older, smaller turbines are unfortunately efficient bird slicers, and will soon get upgraded by operators in the area to larger, slower speed turbines under a deal to avoid more bird deaths.

article-image Altamont Pass Wind Farm (photograph by David J Laporte)

To get there:
For a good view of the Altamont area wind turbines, drive east from Livermore, California, on Interstate 580. Take the West Grant Line Road exit and either go north to make a left and head east on Altamont Pass Road, or better, go south to wander among the turbines that stretch between the interstate and Patterson Pass road that runs east-west to the south.

Solar One/Solar Two
Daggett, California

article-imageSolar Two tower (via eeremultimedia.energy.gov)

The Department of Energy’s Solar One plant was based on a simple if somewhat wild idea: line up nearly 2,000 mirrors to reflect sunlight on a focal point to heat water, make steam, and generate power.

The plant was completed in 1981, in cooperation with Southern California Edison, L.A. Dept. of Water and Power, and the California Energy Commission. It spread across 126 acres 10 miles east of Barstow, California, generated about 10 megawatts of power, and was in operation from 1982 to 1986. In 1995, additional mirrors were added to the site, which now heated a molten salt solution that could store energy while clouds passed overhead.

article-imageSolar Two heliostat (via Wikimedia)

Solar One proved the viability of the molten salt energy storage concept. The site was decommissioned in 1999 and converted by University of California-Davis into a kind of telescope that measures gamma rays hitting the atmosphere.

To get there:
Drive on Interstate 40 east of Barstow, take the Daggett exit, skip past historic Highway 66 and instead take Santa Fe Street east for about three miles. Solar One/Solar Two will be on your left, to the north.


THE DEARLY DEPARTED

Kamaoa Wind Farm
Hawaii’s Big Island, Southern tip

article-imageKamaoa Wind Farm in 2006 (photograph by Rebecca Stanek)

A cluster of 37 wind turbines formerly marked the spot of the Kamaoa Wind Farm, at the far south end of Hawaii’s Big Island. The small wind farm opened in 1987 and was decommissioned 20 years later after a deal for the turbines’ power expired.

Yet the Mitsubishi turbines cranked on, became an ever-worse eyesore, and maddened those who wanted good views of the coast and Pacific Ocean. The farm’s owner, Apollo Energy Corp., finally removed the turbines in 2012 and sold them as scrap to China.

article-imageKamaoa Wind Farm in 2007 (photograph by Christian Razukas)

ARCO Carrizo Plain Solar Farm
San Luis Obispo County, California

article-imageAbandoned Carrizo Plain's solar power plant (via Center for Land Use Interpretation

There’s nothing left of an ambitious plan to generate power from the sun at one of the sunniest places in California, about 70 miles west of Bakersfield. But for 11 years — from 1983 to 1994 — Carrizo Plain hosted a 5.2 megawatt solar farm built by Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO).

ARCO, traditionally an oil company, was a pioneer in solar power after the 1970s energy crisis. It built its own solar cells and deployed them on Carrizo Plain. ARCO sold the 177-acre solar farm to Carrizo Solar Corp. in 1990, which dismantled the farm in 1994.

PG&E Pilot Solar Plant
Kerman, California

Near the town of Kerman, California, sits the new Five Points Solar site, the direct descendent of Pacific Gas & Electric’s pilot solar plant in Kerman, demolished in 2011. The 10-acre site was built in 1992, retired in 1997, and its panels were removed 14 years later after neighbors complained.


Explore more awe-inspiring abandoned places on Atlas Obscura >

Places in this article

Solar One and Solar Two

Daggett, California

Tehachapi Wind Farm

Tehachapi, California
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