When you hear the word windmill, you probably imagine something quaint and picturesque, like an old painting. But some say today's windmills are anything but a pretty picture.
ABC's Bill Redeker reports from Palm Springs.
Palm Springs, the legendary California oasis, is home to celebrities, terrific weather and abundant golf. It's also one of the windiest places on earth - the perfect place for power producing windmills. Three-thousand windmills can generate enough electricity to light up a city the size of San Francisco.
"We have the potential for 20 percent of our nation's energy to be produced from wind," said John White, director of the California Center for Engery Efficiency.
In fact there are already windmills, or turbines as they're called, in 40 states, but this rapidly growing source of energy is leaving a controversial footprint.
"They want to go into neighborhoods where people live and say, 'Oh! Gee!, we're making clean energy what's your problem with that?' Well that doesn't really wash," homeowner Lee Starks said.
It doesn't wash for Starks because he lives at the foot of a mountain where about 50, 400-foot windmills may soon radically alter the landscape.
"Yeah, this isn't just my backyard. This is a National Monument," Starks said when he was asked to reply to the response "Sounds like you're saying not in my backyard."
It's a problem communities are facing across the country - a choice between renewable energy and natural surroundings. Massachusetts, Residents of Cape Wind, which include Sen.Ted Kennedy, just suffered a setback in their battle to block offshore windmills that would impair the view off the Massachusetts coast like this.
"They're going to start down there, come up along the road here," Joyce Manley said about the destination for the propsed windmills. .
Manley has been tilting at Palm Springs windmills for years, but she hasn't always won. A wind farm was built just across the street from her home, which she considers a particular nuisance at night
"Seeing the lights. They don't stop. They're going all the time, daytime white, nighttime red. And then the sound, anytime the windmills are turning if the wind is blowing you gotta hum, or a drone, or a whooshing sound depending on the speed of the wind," Manley said.
Windmills are not always that productive. For example, although the wind can gust up to 50 mph, some of these giant turbines have to be shut down because if they spin too fast they'll simply burn out. According to critics, wind energy is unreliable and when there are days when there's no wind at all, meaning no electricity. The critics go as far to say that supporters of wind farms are just blowing hot air.
"We're going to have to decide if we want to protect the American landscape or not or turn it into an industrial zone," Starks said.
A decision on whether windmills should be built on top of the mountains is expected later this year. Until then, the turbines will continue to fan the debate.
Bill Redeker, ABC News, Palm Springs.