Placing a big bet on the wind, Southern California Edison Co. said Thursday that it would buy the power produced by a massive Tehachapi energy project that would dwarf the nation’s largest such operations.
The Rosemead-based utility agreed to purchase at least 1,500 megawatts of power from the planned wind farm under a 20-year contract. The price was not disclosed.
A subsidiary of Australia’s Allco Financial Group Inc. and Mojave-based wind farm developer Oak Creek Energy Systems Inc. have formed a joint venture to install the required wind turbines over a 50-square-mile area in Tehachapi, a breezy, remote site in Kern County that is dotted with smaller projects.
“This is a really good deal,” said Matt Freedman, staff attorney of the Utility Reform Network, a consumer group based in San Francisco. “It’s huge “¦ and we’re happy about it.”
All of California’s wind farms together produce 2,300 megawatts of power; the Edison deal by itself would boost that number by 65%.
The 1,500 megawatts in the new contract are enough to power nearly 1 million typical homes in Edison’s 50,000-square-mile service territory.
Concerns about global warming and U.S. dependence on imported natural gas and crude oil have triggered a push for alternative forms of energy.
In recent years, wind power has soared in popularity, largely because it has emerged as one of the cheapest forms of renewable power.
“Wind power is growing by leaps and bounds in the U.S. because it is an energy source that works for our economy, environment and energy security,” said Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Assn.
The Edison project would produce more than twice the electricity of the biggest U.S. wind farm, near Abilene, Texas.
Stuart Hemphill, Edison’s director of renewable and alternative power, described Thursday’s deal as “a win for our customers.”
Southern California Edison, a subsidiary of Edison International, already is the nation’s largest buyer of renewable power.
As much as 17% of the electricity it delivers to customers comes from energy sources that are considered renewable, including geothermal, solar, biomass and hydroelectric facilities.
In California, all utilities are pushing to meet a goal of generating 20% of the state’s power needs from renewable sources by 2010.
The looming deadline has triggered a flurry of new contracts by the energy companies lining up so-called green power.
Although the deal announced Thursday would double Edison’s wind energy production, the utility said it would still struggle to meet the 2010 target.
Company executives said the first batch of power from the project was expected to come online in 2010, but additional supply would have to be phased in over several years.
The timeline – and the fate of the entire project – depends on whether and when the utilities can build a transmission line to carry the new wind power from the turbines to the state’s power grid, said Freedman of the Bay Area consumer group.
Edison and other utilities are working with state regulators on plans to construct the necessary transmission line. But the price tag is $1.8 billion, and the approval process for such projects can be contentious and lengthy.
The California Public Utilities Commission must approve the contract between Edison and the wind farm developers. Freedman said his group had seen the contract, “and we think it’s a fair deal for consumers.”
He added that the project was “almost certainly” dependent on Congress extending tax credits to producers of renewable power. Those credits are set to expire at the end of 2008.
Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean-energy advocate at nonprofit group Environment California, was cheered by Edison’s deal.
“To have one single developer and one single buyer signing a contract of this size “¦ that definitely is on a whole new level,” she said.
By Elizabeth Douglass, Times Staff Writer
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