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Fairfield brewery gets mammoth wind turbine to power plant

Fairfield on Friday got a new landmark.

Anheuser-Busch and Foundation Windpower assembled a white wind turbine with a tower some 320 feet tall at the Budweiser brewery along Interstate 80. Hundreds of such mammoth turbines are in place 10 miles to the east in rural Montezuma Hills pastureland, but this one is in Fairfield city limits.

Brewing beer at Budweiser should soon be a breeze. Plant General Manager Kevin Finger estimated the turbine could provide 20 percent of the electricity for the brewery.

The local brewery sits amid a wind belt. That wind has even given the area its name. Supposedly, “Suisun” is the Patwin Indian word for the area’s famed west wind.

Finger is familiar with the area’s stiff winds that will soon give the brewery power. He commutes to work from Green Valley by bicycle and often must fight the breeze on his return evening trip.

As far as he knows, this is the first turbine at an Anheuser-Busch InBev facility, Finger said.

“To my knowledge, this is also the first at a brewery facility in the United States,” he said.

The General Electric turbine on Anheuser-Busch land is owned by San Francisco-based Foundation Windpower. Foundation Windpower has a 20-year agreement to sell the electricity to the brewery. The turbine will produce about 1,500 kilowatts of electricity per hour.

This turbine and associated equipment cost about $4 million, said Matt Wilson of Foundation Windpower. Power from the turbine should start going to the brewery on Nov. 2 or Nov. 3, he said.

On Friday morning, a crane with a boom extending even higher than the turbine tower prepared to lift the nacelle – a box the size of a mobile home that contains the gearbox and other equipment – to the top of the tower. It would then lift the three turbine blades to the nacelle for attachment.

That mammoth crane had to be assembled on the spot. Finger said it arrived on 27 tractor-trailer flat beds.

Anheuser-Busch has launched other renewable energy projects at the local brewery. The brewery gets 4 percent of its electricity annually from 6,500 solar panels covering about 6.5 acres. It has replaced about 15 percent of its natural gas use with methane that comes from brewing wastewater.

But none of these other efforts will draw the attention of passers-by on adjacent I-80. The turbine, in contrast, is hard to miss.

The turbine is “an environmental statement,” Wilson said.

And a big one at that.