The road to approval of a massive wind energy project will be long and laced with regulatory red tape.
Construction is expected to begin in 2009 on the Alta Wind Energy Center between Tehachapi and Mojave. Completion is forecast for 2014.
But first, Southern California Edison, which signed a 20 year contract to purchase the power, must receive approval to build new transmission lines, upgrade existing lines and add two substations to disperse the power to homes.
The first part of the transmission project will connect substations in Lancaster and Santa Clarita. Subsequent parts of the project would extend power lines to the San Gabriel Valley and eventually Ontario, pumping wind power from the Alta Wind Energy Center and other wind farms to Southern California users.
The 4,500-megawatt transmission project was approved by the California Independent System Operator’s board of governors in January.
The first segment of the project was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission on March 1 and is pending approval by the U.S. Forest Service to allow lines to run through part of the Angeles National Forest.
The second and third segments were approved by the CPUC on March 15. SCE plans to file an application in June for approval of the remainder of the project.
Tom Burhenn, SCE’s manager of regulatory approvals, said he expects to clear all hurdles by 2008 and construction to be completed by 2013.
Construction on the Alta Wind Energy Center is expected to start in 2009 after approval of the transmission project, according to Ed Duggan, executive vice president of Oak Creek Energy Systems Inc., which is developing the wind project.
“It certainly is a risk that (approvals) could not go through quickly, which could slow down the entire process,” said Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association. “This is an unusual project in that it is so large. There has not been a recent precedent.”
The wind project is contingent upon upgrading the area’s transmission capacity.
“Without this new transmission infrastructure, it would not be possible for the energy to be delivered to California consumers,” said Brent Gokbudak, SCE’s transmission project manager.
If all goes as planned with the transmission lines, the project will still need an environmental impact report, approval for part of the development on Bureau of Land Management land and county approval.
Duggan said the company has begun work on archeological and biological surveys as part of its environmental impact report.
An agreement between the county, military bases and wind producers caps the height of turbines at 400 feet in some places and 600 feet in others. Duggan said Oak Creek would like to lift some of the 400-foot caps to get at stronger winds higher up. Duggan said the company will work to address any potential concerns from the military and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Some of the land will need to be rezoned for wind energy. The project will also need to adhere to the county’s wind energy ordinance, which regulates lot size, height limits, roads and distance between structures, among other factors, Kern County Planning Director Ted James said.
James didn’t recall any wind projects that were denied, but said some were redesigned after problems were identified.
“We have to understand all the issues before we can formulate an opinion about it,” James said.
BY Ryan Schuster, Californian staff writer
31 March 2007
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