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Construction on the Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC) began last week in California.  (Source: Terra Gen)

The project aims to provide 3 GW of power capacity, power 600,000 homes, and create thousands of green jobs.  (Source: Terra Gen)

Some environmentalists have vocally opposed the project, fearful that the turbins will kill local animals and otherwise damage the desert ecosystem.  (Source: Mojave Desert Blog)
Overcoming landowner and environmentalist protests, the 3 GW project commences

With the death of T. Boone Pickens' unprecedented wind farm project in Texas, the alternative energy industry was left with the glaring question of who would step up to the plate and take its place.  

That question appears to be answered, with the progress of the Alta Wind Energy Center.  Set to become the nation's largest wind power plant and among the largest in the world, the new installation is being constructed in Southern California.

Its tall turbines will blanket thousands of acres of Mojave Desert foothills.  They will be capable of producing 3 GW of electric power at peak -- enough to power approximately 600,000 homes.

The project is actually among the nation's oldest, dating back almost a decade.  It was long delayed due to lack of funding, protests from citizens fearful of damage to the desert ecosystem, and difficulties in implementing the high-power transmission wires needed to carry the power out of the desert.

It appears that the stars are at last aligning for the project.  After receiving $1.2B USD in new funding, the owner of the project, Terra Gen, just broke ground for the first time in the project's history.  Construction began in the Tehachapi Pass, 75 miles north of Los Angeles.  The construction will likely stretch through 2020 or later.

Billy Gamboa, a renewable energy analyst with the California Center for Sustainable Energy, says the installation will be a game changer for the industry.  He states, "It's a super-mega-project — it'll definitely set a precedent for the rest of the state and have a pretty large impact on the wind industry in general."

Ryan Wiser, a renewable energy analyst at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, concurs, stating, "Alta's an absolutely enormous project in probably the most promising wind resource area that remains in the state,.  It's the single biggest investment in California wind project assets in decades and is likely the largest the state is ever going to see."

The farm already has some of its necessary distribution deals in place.  Terra Gen has signed a contract with Southern California Edison, to buy 1.55 GW of power over 25 years from Alta.  That will allow it to power 275,000 homes purely on wind power.  That distribution alone more than doubles the previous record held by a 735 MW Texas farm.

The first round of construction will install 290 turbines across 9,000 acres.  That will create thousands of jobs and increase California's wind power production by 25 percent according to current estimates.  Denmark-based Vestas-American Wind Technology will manufacture the turbines for this round of construction.

In 2015, the next piece of the megafarm, an 300-turbine 830 MW monster, will come online.  That piece will use new ultra-wide turbines whose blades will be almost as wide as a football field.

Terra Gen purchased the property and the project rights for $325M USD from Australian Allco Finance Group, which went bankrupt in 2008.  After that Terra Gen had to overcome concerns from the Federal Aviation Administration that the turbines could interfere with flights from LA's Mountain Valley Airport.

While the company has finally received the permits it needs to complete the construction, it still is facing petitions from environmentalists and landowners.  One petition by the Old West Ranch Property Owners Assn. has over 1,000 signatures.  The group's president, Merle Carnes, complains, "We're not against green energy in any way, but there just comes a time when you say that this is my community and I don't want turbines encroaching in full view.  There's room somewhere else."

Mojave Desert Blog, an environmental activist blog critical of the project, writes, "Energy firms and the federal government should invest in more research before we rush technology into action that kills thousands of birds and bats and replicating Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" in our new century."

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lol god bless 'em
By Homerboy on 8/3/2010 12:36:10 PM , Rating: 3
"We're not against green energy in any way, but there just comes a time when you say that this is my community and I don't want turbines encroaching in full view. There's room somewhere else."

We want and embrace Green Energy! (But not at our expense!)

RE: lol god bless 'em
By Ammohunt on 8/3/2010 1:36:41 PM , Rating: 2
Would you want a massive turbine in your backyard?

RE: lol god bless 'em
By bupkus on 8/3/2010 1:46:05 PM , Rating: 1
Would you want a massive turbine in your backyard?
Actually, I was thinking of putting in a tomato garden, but otherwise I guess free electricity would be ok, too.

RE: lol god bless 'em
By theArchMichael on 8/3/2010 2:37:43 PM , Rating: 2
Everybody wants to use electricity but nobody wants those big high capacity power lines next to their block or suburb development. This is nothing new...

RE: lol god bless 'em
By HostileEffect on 8/3/2010 4:21:20 PM , Rating: 2
Do I get some kind of compensation, such as, free power for the life of the plant?

RE: lol god bless 'em
By knutjb on 8/3/2010 3:32:29 PM , Rating: 3
Yep, the standard Not In My Backyard mentality. Don't limit my power but I don't want to see that Nuke plant, Hydro Dam, and any fuel source electric plant to include solar.

An incredibly small minority of people involved in the environmental movement think they know whats best for all of us and have prevented growth and cost us huge sums of money.

They sue company X and keep the project tied up in court for decades. We live without improvement in the grid (they have done so with the very project in the above article) or the supply of power and that runs the cost of energy up. Maintaining older plants longer, the demand for the resources goes up as does the price (brown outs in LA). So who pays the price, you do.

We want and embrace Green Energy! (But not at our expense!)
Should say:
We want and embrace Green Energy! (Even at our expense and yours!) But we really don't mean what we say, we really want Social Justice and that requires us to force you to live just like the third world.

We could expand our economy and help the third world but its not about help and what's good it's about power and control over others.

RE: lol god bless 'em
By Reclaimer77 on 8/3/2010 5:50:13 PM , Rating: 2
Nobody wants them around. Even Ted Kennedy, the biggest liberal on the planet and pro-anything-environmental, fought like hell to keep these things out of his district and state.

Wind farms are a crock though. Massive wastes of land for negligible power production assuming the wind is even blowing all the time or hard enough. The noise and loss of property value!!! Man, I feel sorry for anyone who has to live near these things.

But hey Obama, never pass up a chance to throw a few billion more of our tax money to a green project!

RE: lol god bless 'em
By marvdmartian on 8/4/2010 8:44:23 AM , Rating: 2
Not just in areas where people are living. The enviro-nut jobs also complain when they want to put a wind farm out in the middle of the desert. You know, a lizard might trip over it, or something.

NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude is prevalent everywhere you look. Sometimes you just have to realize that the needs of the many outweigh the whininess of the few.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein

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