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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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side effects
By dgingeri on 8/3/2010 1:08:30 PM , Rating: 2
Note: they're still using the old wind turbines that kill so many birds, are harder to maintain, and take up a massive amount of more space.

If they'd use vertical turbines, they'd use about 1/10 the space, kill far less birds, and people wouldn't have to climb ladder to do most of the servicing. They'd also be able to maintain them with about half the staff.

yet, either wind power style has a major effect: it slows down the wind. California had one other major wind farm where the other end of the valley just stopped having rain entirely. the wind farm slowed down the wind so much that the rain just stopped reaching the other end of the valley. Most of the "green energy" pushers don't mention this little fact. Wind farms slow down the wind and change weather patterns. If we get too many of them in California, Colorado is going to start getting major droughts.

RE: side effects
By bupkus on 8/3/2010 1:35:47 PM , Rating: 2
If we get too many of them in California, Colorado is going to start getting major droughts.
Lol, that's a good one.

A butterfly fluttering it's wings will return this effect back to normal.

RE: side effects
By TSS on 8/3/2010 8:01:52 PM , Rating: 2
It has less to do with the chaos effect, and more to do with a much, much simpler truth in life: Nothing is free.

If you take energy from the wind, the wind will have less energy. Maybe because it's so simple that it's often forgotten.

Solar panels are a better sollution, if you've got room to place them in a spot where nothing would grow anyway. Because nothing below them will recieve energy for photosynthesis.

RE: side effects
By vortmax2 on 8/3/2010 1:37:39 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with you that using the latest tech is a good idea, but I don't see how wind farms can effect the weather. Aside from building a 5000ft wall, the prevailing winds will have no problem moving weather in and out...

RE: side effects
By OoklaTheMok on 8/3/2010 1:49:45 PM , Rating: 3
What is even worse is that all these fans are chopping up all of the oxygen molecules in the air as they spin around. This is causing massive areas where there isn't enough oxygen to breath.

If you don't believe me, just look up Korean fan death.

RE: side effects
By FITCamaro on 8/3/2010 2:34:35 PM , Rating: 2
Regardless of the other joking comments, I have talked to others about the potential side effects of wind farms. Which knows what the real side effects of them are. Its doubtful they effect winds at high altitudes. But below 100 ft, it sounds like pretty logical sense that they slow down the wind. Now how much that effects the weather is questionable. Does it perhaps effect pollen blowing in the wind which potentially effects other things?

RE: side effects
By Suntan on 8/3/2010 3:03:00 PM , Rating: 2
There actually was a rather extensive review of this topic some years back by the FAA/NASA. The conclusion was that, short of placing a turbine in every available square meter of the nation, the effect is negligible. The biggest impact noted was the increase of radar noise for the various stations that track/control air traffic.

But if environmentalists are really worried about all the drag from tall, ground based obstacles slowing down the air velocity at ground level, they could always improve things by promptly chopping down all the tall growth forests across the land...


RE: side effects
By marvdmartian on 8/3/2010 3:24:49 PM , Rating: 2
It's really no problem at all. We'll just mount another turbine, UPSIDE DOWN, on top of every turbine. They will cancel each other out, and the wind will blow just as strong as it ever did before. Simple! [/sarcasm]

Really, the only creatures that have to worry about these turbines are the human beings in parachutes, who are trying to keep Charlie Sheen from exposing the alien threat. ;)

RE: side effects
By Spuke on 8/3/2010 11:38:34 PM , Rating: 2
I live close to where these are being built. There are other windmills to the west of these. I can honestly say that the wind doesn't slow down not one single bit. Even though this is the desert, there is quite a bit of vegetation and we have a lot of it this year because of a bit above average rainfall this last winter.

The people complaining were most likely the locals of the town of Mojave (which complain about everything). They're NOT environmentalists by a long shot. They just don't want ANY growth. These same idiots begged the state to move a heavily traveled freeway that went through their town to outside their town. The local businesses were raking in the money. Well, they got what they wished and the thriving businesses promptly went out of business.

Maybe that's what they wanted? Nope!!! The idiots then had the nerve to wonder what happened to their local businesses? LMAO!!! Seriously, they complained to a local newspaper about it! There are no environmentalists groups up here (it's a conservative area) so they must have been from out of the area.

RE: side effects
By shin0bi272 on 8/3/2010 5:50:14 PM , Rating: 2
You forgot to mention one other thing... the constant 60DdB noise they make! No one will want to be within miles of these things so here's hoping that they put them far enough away from any major cities that they can still push the power they make (that is WHEN the wind is blowing) to a location it can be immediately used since we have basically 0 storage capabilities... and far enough away so it doesnt drive the people in that city crazy.

RE: side effects
By Spuke on 8/3/2010 11:42:13 PM , Rating: 2
You forgot to mention one other thing... the constant 60DdB noise they make!
They're actually not that bad. I've driven through the one's in the Tehachapi mountains and it wasn't annoying at all. I don't know if they're designed this way on purpose but the noise frequency is in a range that's not offensive. Even with a bunch of them turning. Quite frankly, when the winds blowing 30 mph or more, you can't really hear them anyways.

RE: side effects
By 67STANG on 8/3/2010 5:55:10 PM , Rating: 2
Wind turbines kill far fewer birds than many other "tall" structures (ie- power lines, buildings and communications towers).
House cats kill more birds than wind turbines do. As do pesticides...

Btw, vertical turbines are indeed very efficient, but in order to have the most reliable source of wind possible, you need to get up as high as possible, something that would be difficult with vertical turbines (given the size of blades needed for commercial gearboxes and multi-MW power production).

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