I N · T H I S · I S S U E
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.