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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 Quadrillity on 8/4/2010 8:40:50 AM , Rating: 4
Well, my idea of "building a home" is being your own contractor, and only hiring professionals for the work that you can not do yourself. Personally, I want to be able to just buy/rent a cheap house or apartment beside/close to where I want to build one.

I'll have sub contractors pour the foundation, then I will raise the walls myself. Of course, I will be using compact-earth for my walls since the concept of packing dirt together is pure genius! Not only is it beautiful and super strong, but it's natural product and almost 100% insulating. You can not beat that!

The whole point is, if you take the time, energy, and patience; you will have a VERY nice house for less than just having someone slap a pre-fab together in a couple of months.

It's all about what you want ... I want to build and design almost every aspect of my home one day, so I guess I am way more involved then most of society. It is cheaper, and better in the long run. But as far as your reply, you are correct if you are implying that MOST people are lazy and don't care to know how to have a cheap but still VERY nice and efficient home.

RE: daf
By JediJeb on 8/4/2010 3:55:42 PM , Rating: 2
Is that compact earth within some other outer skin for the walls? If not, where I live the rains would soon destroy them.

Right now I have a log home, though I would rather it was made of at least 8 inch thick cedar instead of the 6 inch pine the person that lived there before me used. Logs are also very good insulator, since here even when it is sub zero you can touch the walls inside and they are always warm to the touch. Mine does have problems in summer though since the roof was built too flat and the hot metal sits very close to the ceiling inside. I plan on remodeling and raising the pitch of the roof to give more dead space above for the summer heat to dissipate through, and put in active fans to help keep it cool. It is only 800 square feet so a single vent free fireplace(Natural Gas, 25,000 btu) keeps it toasty warm in the winter.

Houses can be built very energy efficient for a low cost. Three sides in the ground build on a hillside is also a very energy efficient style of construction. If I ever build another home it will be that or if it has to be a box framed home it will be 6 or 8 inch thick walls.

RE: daf
By Quadrillity on 8/4/2010 4:21:19 PM , Rating: 2
Is that compact earth within some other outer skin for the walls? If not, where I live the rains would soon destroy them.

lol, yes of course! You have a double sided mold that you stamp layers of earth down into. After you remove the molds, the earth still holds together very tight, but you cover it plaster/concrete or whatever else you want to use. In fact, you pretty much have to use a pneumatic ram unless you want to do it by hand (would take a long time lol). It's actually best to use it in between a permanent wall barrier where it has nearly 100% insulation though. Really cool stuff...

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