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Tehachapi’s four turbines may be scuttled

Tehachapi, CA – Tehachapi’s four wind turbines, purchased over a decade ago to help power the city’s wastewater treatment plant, may soon go to wind power heaven, victims of rising electric rates and maintenance costs.

While clashes between wind power advocates and those who want call for a halt to new projects unfold on a global scale, a quartet of historic turbines owned by the city of Tehachapi will raise questions to be addressed on a much smaller stage.

Purchased a little more than a decade ago from Oak Creek Energy Systems (no one at the City could confirm a date or purchase and calls to Oak Creek went unreturned), the 75-foot tube turbines were intended to supplement power resources needed for the wastewater treatment plant, located west of CA-58. But now some question whether the turbines actually cost more money, in terms of electricity usage and maintenance expenses, than they generate in power.

“I think it seemed like a good idea at the time,” said Public Works Director Dennis Wahlstrom, who worked in the wind industry for a decade, “but they may have outlived their usefulness.”

The problem, explained Wahlstrom, is that the City of Tehachapi, like many businesses and government entities, is on a Southern California Edison “power savings plan,” which involves reduced costs when usage is lowered during peak hours, generally, 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. So-called “stand-by charges,” what amount to penalty fees, can be levied against the city if usage during those hours spikes. In addition to well pumps and other city utilities, the turbines themselves, intended as renewable energy generators, must draw significant amounts of electricity from traditional non-renewable sources when being started. This can, Wahlstrom suggested, result in thousands of dollars in added energy costs from SoCal Edison.

“But I’m just giving you a generalized picture of what can happen,” Wahstrom emphasized. “We’re dealing here in reasonable speculation but not facts. Until we have the hard data on what’s going on with these four turbines, it’s only safe to indicate that it is an assessment we are in the process of making.”

That process was closer to some sort of formal submission to the Tehachapi City Council last week when Tehachapi’s Utility Manager, Jon Curry, submitted a study he completed to the City Engineer, Jay Schlosser.

Said Curry, “My role in this was simply to gather the data, aggregate it, and present the City Engineer with what he needs in order to make the proper fact-based recommendation.”

Schlosser indicated in a telephone interview that he has not yet had an opportunity to review Curry’s report. Any final decision on the fate of the turbines will be made by the City Council.

Until Curry’s report is assessed, the four turbines continue to spin behind the storage ponds on Enterprise Way, oblivious to any coming Judgment Day.