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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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RE: daf
By FITCamaro on 8/3/2010 2:05:04 PM , Rating: 1
I know a girl who has this attitude. That humanity is a plague. So I told her "Why don't you kill yourself then?". She said she was just not going to have kids as her way to help solve the problem. Yeah that'll work...

Glad you and I will be paying for the majority of this wind farm. With the subsidies these days, its all but free. At least the T. Boone Pickens farm pretty much was.

I'm also questioning the 3GW number. How much power are the first 290 smaller turbines providing? Because if the 300 larger turbines only do 830 MW, lets say the 290 smaller ones do 700 MW. We're still 1.5 GW short. And assuming roughly the same amount of land for the second set of turbines as the first, that's over 18,000 acres for 1.5 GW of power in the best case. That's crazy. How much space does a nuclear plant with lets say two reactors putting out 750 MW apiece take up? A hundred acres? Two hundred? If that? And you're still gonna need more land to hit the 3 GW figure.

Also I think the 1.5 GW of power over 25 years shows the reliability of this. If its so good, why won't they be buying all the power?

RE: daf
By theArchMichael on 8/3/2010 2:29:38 PM , Rating: 2
I think this thing is happening in phases so I think the 300 larger turbines are coming in 2014 but probably they have plans to develop after that.

The construction will likely stretch through 2020 or later.

Assuming that it doesn't take 6 years to do an implementation of 300 turbines??

As far as the nuclear plants. I agree with you, and apparently there will be development of more Nuclear power plants. But I think in North America at least this is probably one of the most ideal places for a wind farm. So, why not use it? Also energy companies with a lot of energy diversity tend to do very well. And, I believe, energy diversity is essential moving forward after the string of energy crises that's led us up to the point we are now. They buy this semi-sweet sh|t now (yes, that is subsidized) but it may spur a "whirlwind" (haha) of continued research and development that may lead to bigger more productive breakthroughs down the line.

RE: daf
By lelias2k on 8/3/10, Rating: 0
RE: daf
By Reclaimer77 on 8/4/2010 2:43:14 AM , Rating: 2
Try find out how much money the US government gives the oil industry each year

Nothing close to what it gets back in taxes. How much is solar or wind tax kicking back to old Uncle Sam these days? Yeah that's what I thought.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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