Solano County has everything it needs to harness the power of wind. The gusts that skim the rolling Montezuma Hills near Rio Vista provide ample breeze to spin the 90 massive wind turbines that comprise one of California’s largest wind farms.
But that’s just one of many key elements needed for a successful operation.
“You need available land, access to and availability on the high-voltage transmission system, and you need a customer,” said Steve Stengel, corporate communications manager for FPL Energy, the nation’s largest alternative energy producer of its kind. “What you have in Solano is all of those elements that come together.”
That, coupled with California’s need for additional and more diverse energy resources, makes the county an ideal place for developing this kind of energy, he added.
The size of FPL Energy’s 6,000-acre farm, which is leased from eight different landowners, may sound daunting. But if you were to take all the roads and machinery scattered across the land and condense them into the actual amount of space they occupy, the farm would encompass only 60 acres, Stengel said.
The farm may leave little mark on the agricultural hills, but its 1.8-megawatt machines collectively produce enough electricity to power more than 40,000 California homes.
And keeping in step with statewide survey results it released earlier this week that indicate Californians’ overwhelmingly positive attitude toward wind energy, FPL has its sights on growth.
“If things go well, we could begin an expansion in late 2007,” Stengel said.
The project, now in the permitting stage, would boost the farm’s capacity by 37 megawatts, creating enough power to supply 10,000 more homes.
The lengthy process calls for extensive environmental review including everything from avian monitoring to plant and animal surveys to analysis of the visual impacts of the equipment.
“There are a lot of environmental concerns,” said Joan Stewart, who handles permits and environmental issues for FPL.
Rio Vista, however, has been able to skirt concerns over land use because agricultural areas are very compatible with these types of projects, she said.
The herds of cattle and sheep that share their grazing land certainly don’t seem to mind the methodical spinning of the windmill-like machines.
“It’s not uncommon for cattle to graze up to the base of the turbine,” Stengel laughed.
The turbines, about 350 feet tall from the ground to the tip of a fully extended blade, begin their revolutions when gusts reach 9 mph, and shut down at 54 mph.
FPL is just one of several wind energy producers that using the 43,000 acres zoned specifically for that use in the Montezuma Hills wind resource area. And only half of the reserved acreage has been developed.
“This is going to be a huge hub for wind energy,” said Roger Young, production lead for FPL’s Rio Vista farm.
County leaders are committed to remaining a part of one of the nation’s fastest growing wind farm regions, and will enjoy the economic benefits with each additional wind turbine.
“It’s a major part of our economic development strategy,” Supervisor Mike Reagan said. “We’re a major player now.”
By Erin Pursell/The Reporter, Vacaville
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