A massive wind power facility proposed for the Tehachapi area, if approved by state regulators, would become the largest project of its kind in the nation.
The $3 billion Alta Wind Energy Center would involve installing as many as 750 wind turbines over a 50-square-mile area east and south of Tehachapi. It would generate as much as 1,500 megawatts – more than twice the power of the largest existing wind energy facility in the United States. It also would more than double the wind energy produced in the Tehachapi area.
An executive involved said the project would create more than 500 construction jobs and more than 300 long-term wind-related jobs to the area.
“It’s a nice boost to the eastern Kern County economy,” said Hal Romanowitz, president and chief operating officer of Mojave-based Oak Creek Energy Systems Inc., one of two companies partnering to develop the project. “The county has been dependent on oil for a long time. The wind energy generated in the future will help to balance out energy resources as oil declines.”
The project kicked off in December when Southern California Edison signed a 20-year contract to purchase electricity from a joint venture between Oak Creek Energy Systems and Australian global financial services company Allco Finance Group Ltd.
Christina Varner, a business developer and renewable energy specialist with the Kern Economic Development Corp., said the contract is “only the beginning of that area’s growth” in wind power.
“The utilities want long-term contracts like this and they want large quantities like this,” Varner said.
California utilities are required to have 20 percent of their power under contract from renewable sources by 2010.
“This is an important step in promoting renewable energy in California,” said Stuart Hemphill, director of renewable and alternative power for Southern California Edison, who noted that most of the proposed facility’s power won’t come online until after 2010. “This is just one of the many things this company is doing to promote environmental stewardship.”
Georgette Theotig, a member of the executive committee of the Kern-Kaweah chapter of the Sierra Club, said she likes what she has heard about the project so far, but added that the chapter will look into the project further.
“We give conditional approval to any wind project,” Theotig said. “We support any technology that doesn’t pollute the air or use limited natural resources. But like any other industry, it needs to be monitored for environmental impacts.”
Theotig said some potential concerns about the project may include avian mortality or the turbines’ blades colliding with birds in flight, and accelerated erosion.
The project requires approval by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Hemphill said Southern California Edison plans to submit paperwork to the CPUC this summer and that approval for the wind energy portion of the plan could come as soon as the end of the year.
The project is contingent upon construction of a $1.8 billion transmission project that would transfer power generated at the wind farm into the state’s power grid. The transmission project was given a green light last month by the California Independent System Operator Corp.’s board of governors. But it still must be approved by the CPUC, whose review will include a environmental impact report, according to Brent Gokbudak, a project manager for Southern California Edison on the transmission project. Gokbudak said the CPUC review process typically takes a year to 18 months.
Final approval and construction of the transmission project would take approximately five years and would have a capacity of 4,500 megawatts.
An Allco press release said the wind energy project would be phased in over time and would become operational between 2007 and 2012.
Romanowitz said the project’s delivery is a moving target because of the uncertainty over how long approvals will take and its dependence on the transmission project to transmit the power.
“It is some years away before we have a major amount of the project developed,” he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
$3 billion – Approximate cost of wind energy project
$1.8 billion – Approximate cost of transmission project to transfer wind electricity to homes
1,500 – Approximate maximum amount of electricity, in megawatts, wind power project could generate, enough to power 1.5 million homes
500 – Approximate number of construction jobs wind energy project could create
300 – Approximate number of long-term jobs wind project could create
50 – Approximate size, in square miles, of proposed wind power facility near Tehachapi
By Ryan Schuster
Californian staff writer
20 February 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding