June 17, 2009 – Volume 12, Issue 7
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Pretty Cool

I’m a native of Arizona now living in California. I’ve made the inter-state drive more times than I can count; it takes six hours from door to door. En route through the desert there is an awe-inspiring stretch of the Interstate 10 that runs between California’s San Bernardino Mountains to the north and the San Jacinto Mountains to the south. It’s called the San Gorgonio Pass.

Here, 3,218 wind turbines adorn the rolling hills, using the wind to generate 619 MW of renewable electricity. There’s an interesting variety of turbines being utilized here. Some from the 1980’s look close to retirement, and apparently barely paying their maintenance costs. Others are recently installed and tower over the rest. The GE 1.5 MW turbine for example has computer controlled motors to optimize direction and blade tilt; their blades that each weigh 14 tons and stretch over 200 ft. in diameter.

The placement of these wind turbines is deliberate. San Gorgonio Pass is one of the windiest areas of Southern California. The industry would say it’s got a “good wind regime.” As technology improves, wind turbines may be installed in areas with less wind, but currently, investing in industrial wind power pencils out in areas with average wind speeds of 14 mph plus. Some coastal areas are “superb.” California’s three notorious wind passes are the best terrestrial applications that the Golden State has to offer. The average wind speed in the San Gorgonio Pass is over 15 mph. That’s why 39 wind farms – owned by different sets of investors -- are located there, companies like Infinite Energy and SeaWest.

T. Boone Pickens has got it right. He’s currently the world’s largest wind developer. The first 1,000 MW (600 GE wind turbines) of 4,000 planned MW will be installed in 2010. Wind presents a great opportunity for America, and for the world as it shifts to protect the climate. Larger-scale wind technologies are advancing, ushering in a new generation of turbines. Wind has the potential to power entire communities. They’re even being integrated into urban buildings. For homes with suitable wind, wind generates power at half the cost of solar and can be net-metered in 44 states.

So what’s the hold-up? Despite advances, wind still costs more than building conventional, carbon-fueled power plants. Federal production tax credits and utility renewable portfolio standards have been essential to spurring the current capacity. Cash-flow analyses make compelling cases for renewable power. In about year 13, after the wind system has paid for itself, the power it generates for the next 10 – 15 years becomes more and more valuable to society, meaning money earned for investors while green power is sent to the grid.

Hopefully next time I make the trip through the desert, the number of new turbines will have multiplied, aiding our country’s renewable power portfolio and ridding our dependence on fossil-fuels. Wind power is not perfect, but has relatively little impact on the environment. Some people who live near proposed wind projects may be apprehensive, but when accurate information and knowledge is made available, experience shows that initial concerns are reduced and support for wind farms increases. San Gorgonio provides a quick glimpse at wind’s history in California, a mix of old and new, a new generation literally on the horizon.
Special Wind Issue by Drew Lowell-Britt
"For the first time in more than a decade, the USA took over the number one position from Germany in terms of total installations.."

-World Wind Energy Report 2008

Making CO2 Valuable

Location: Riverside County between the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Jacinto Mountains

Elevation: 2,600 ft

Total Projects: 39

Total turbines: 3,218 turbines and more under construction

Installed MW: 619 MW installed

2007 generation: 1,063 GWh.

Wind Facts

California was the first U.S. state in which large wind farms were developed, beginning in the early 1980's. Today they are three major wind farms that produce 95% of California’s wind energy:

- Tehachapi (south east of Bakersfield) - 666 MW installed – 1,663 GWh generated in 2007
- San Gorgonio (near Palm Springs, east of Los Angeles) – 619 MW installed – 1,063 GWh generated in 2007
- Altamont Pass (east of San Francisco) – 586 MW installed – 722 GWh generated in 2007

Total California Wind Power Capacity (2008)
Existing Capacity: 2,516.51 MW (about 5% of CA peak demand)
Projects under Construction: 275 MW
Rank in U.S. by Existing Capacity: 3
Potential Capacity: 6,770 MW (about 13.5% of CA peak demand)

U.S. Wind Capacity and Potential

The U.S. wind energy industry continued new installations at record pace in 2008, putting over 1,300 MW of new wind capacity in place. That brings the total installed capacity to 21,017 MW in 35 states. In addition, over 8,000 MW are under construction and expected to be completed this year. For the first time in more than a decade, the U.S. took over the number one position from Germany in terms of total installations.

Texas leads the nation in terms of installed wind power capacity with more than twice the capacity of the next state, Iowa. At the end of the third quarter of 2008, the states with the most cumulative wind power capacity installed were:

The Top Five Wind States
Texas: 7,906 MW
Iowa: 2,883 MW
California: 2,653 MW
Minnesota: 1,802 MW
Washington: 1,478 MW

Top Five States for Wind Energy Potential
(as measured by annual energy potential in the billions of kWh)
North Dakota: 1,210
Texas: 1,190
Kansas: 1,070
South Dakota: 1,030
Montana: 1,020

Offshore wind turbine technology is the frontier of commercial wind technolgy. The offshore wind energy potential in the U.S. is over 1,000 GW. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates commercial deepwater technology is still 10 - 15 years away, but near term offshore experience in shallow water will accelerate deepwater technology. For example, companies such as GE, Vestas, and Enercon GmbH have developed 5 - 7 MW turbine prototypes that they expect to install 150 ft water by the summer of 2009.

The Costs of Wind Power Today - Small Wind

For a farm, ranch, village project, or remote home, or for backup power, a smaller turbine can be an attractive investment. Wind systems for single family homes in windy areas are less expensive than solar systems, while still eligible for the residential renewable energy tax credit of 30% of the installed cost with no maximum, and like solar systems, they can be net metered. In addition, utilities in your area may offer additional cash rebates. For example, residents living in California’s investor owned utility territories are eligible for the Emerging Renewables Program rebates.

The economics of a wind system are particularly sensitive to average wind speeds in the area, and to the prevailing prices for conventional electricity. A prospective turbine owner should have at least a 10 mph average wind speed and be paying at least 10 cents/kWh for electricity. Lesser values beware. As for turbine placement, the standard industry rule is that the lowest point of the turbine rotor should be at least 30 feet above anything within 500 feet, and taller is better. (The height of your turbine may be restricted by local ordinance, if not state code.)

In areas like the high desert near Victorville, California, household systems are sprouting up like dandelions. Remote locations are more ideal because of the ability to install tall towers essential for capturing the wind resource. If the conditions are right at your site, the cost of a small wind turbine may look something like this:

Southwest Whisper system rated at 3 kW
Gross Cost at $5.00/watt:
Emerging Renewables Program Rebate of $2.50/watt: $7,500
Tax Credit of 30%: $2,250
Net Cost $5,250

This particular wind turbine (Whisper 500) uses very efficient fiberglass and foam core blades (14’ diameter) that can start-up at low winds (7.5 mph). In consistent 12 mph winds the Southwest Wind Whisper 500 model turbine will deliver in excess of 385 kWh per month and will pay for itself in about 13 years. In 15 mph winds, the output increases to 535 kWh per month.

Other prominent wind turbine manufacturers for homes and farms are Bergey Wind Systems and Kestrel. George Bush senior has a Southwest Skystream at his Kennebunkport Maine compound.

Urban Wind

Some innovative ideas and designs have brought more wind power into the urban environment such as vertical axis turbines and building integrated turbines. New parapet wind systems – such as Boston’s Logan International Airport – are attracting interest. Yale University is testing a similar system with 10 turbines on its Becton Center building. Yale estimates the 10 turbines will generate less than 1% of the Becton’s high energy consumption but pay for themselves in 8 years. These systems are promising, but actual field production figures are not yet published. One of the most extreme urban installations can be found at the new Bahrain World Trade Center which will have three turbines with a combined capacity of 1.3 MW.

There are many challenges to urban wind, mainly performance and safety.

- Buildings and other features in an urban setting tend to cause turbulence in the wind flow, thereby reducing wind speeds.
- Building & safety codes often require “a fall radius” that simply makes the installation of pole-mounted or parapet-mounted wind turbines impossible.
- The load on a roof caused by the weight of a spinning turbine is substantial

Wind and the Environment

Concerns with wind power do not end in the city, there are also concerns about the environmental impact of wind farms in rural areas. The primary concerns include, noise, visual impact, and the deaths of birds and bats.

Noise is evident when the turbines are producing, but much of it is masked by the wind itself. To reduce turbine noise, designers have made changes that increase efficiency whereby more wind is turned converted into rotational torque and less into acoustic noise. Additionally, proper siting and insulating materials are used to minimize noise.

Wind turbines are generally very visible because they are sited in exposed places where the winds are strong. Aesthetic issues are by nature subjective, however, with proper placement and the use of the latest efficient technologies, fewer turbines are needed in each location, partially avoiding aesthetic impact.

The mortality of birds and bats is perhaps the most controversial biological issue related to wind turbines. Birds occasionally collide with wind turbines like they do all tall structures. (A particular area of concern: the Altamont Pass in Northern California.) To address the issue, the wind industry and government officials have sponsored research on collisions and avian behavior. Developers are required to collect monitoring data at existing and proposed wind sites. Turbine manufacturers also now use tubular towers that do not attract as many birds as the older lattice towers that used to provide perches. Research and monitoring show that less than 1% of bird deaths result from turbines, compared to over 50% from their colliding with buildings.

Developers have to plan wind farms carefully, especially because a wind farm requires about 60 acres per MW of installed capacity, but the public needs to put the impacts into prospective. Only 5% (3 acres) or less of this area is actually occupied by turbines, access roads, and other equipment; 95% remains free for other compatible uses such as farming or ranching.