Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New wind farm does more with less in Solano County

September 25, 2012        
MONTEZUMA HILLS — Lisa Schubert took a marker and wrote a message on a 147-foot-long wind turbine blade that lay on the ground near the newest wind energy farm in the Montezuma Hills.“May many more blades follow this one in the sky over the green, clean earth,” she wrote.

Schubert and a couple hundred other people left their marks Monday on the blade, whether it was a signature or short message. That blade will soon be mounted on a 262-foot-high white tower that is part of EDF Renewable Energy’s Shiloh IV wind farm.

Shiloh IV will bring 50 new energy-generating white turbines to the Montezuma Hills. About 800 turbines already stand there in various wind farms that have various owners. But this latest project is a case of addition by subtraction.

“We’ll be replacing 235 of the old, lattice machines with 50 of the latest, greatest machines,” said Mark Tholke, vice president of southwest development for EDF Renewable Energy.
Fewer turbines but more power. The new version of this wind turbine farm is to generate 10 times the electricity as the old version, about 100 megawatts, enough to power 40,000 average homes. Electricity will go to the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power grid.

The $300 million project is to be finished by year’s end. More than 200 people attended Monday’s celebratory ceremony, which included speeches and the blade-signing opportunity.
The old, lattice turbines were installed in 1989. The new turbines are four times the height.

Shiloh IV will be the last big wind project in the Solano County wind resource area, Tholke said. There’s no room for another single project that would generate 100 megawatts, he said.
Solano County has looked at the possibility of extending the wind resource area to the north side of Highway 12. Tholke didn’t rule out EDF Renewable Energy someday building a project there.

“Our business model is to put up as many of these projects as we can,” he said. “We have a long-term commitment to this area.”

But he called any possible projects north of Highway 12 “speculative.”

County Supervisor Mike Reagan attended the ceremony. There is still room for smaller wind turbines projects at various locations in the wind resource area south of Highway 12. Whether wind turbine projects ever get built north of Highway 12 depends on Travis Air Force Base, he said.

Air Force officials in recent years have expressed concern that spinning turbine blades can cause the base radar to miss small, private planes. Travis, the Air Force, Solano County and wind turbine companies have worked to find solutions for turbine projects south of Highway 12.

A technical solution will be found so the blades don’t blind the radar, Reagan said. Still, turbines north of Highway 12 would have to be placed so the towers aren’t in areas where Travis planes maneuver, he said.

Federal wind energy tax incentives are also an issue. Existing tax credits expire in December. Tholke said the wind industry hopes a lame-duck Congress will extend the credits to keep the playing field level with fossil fuels and solar power.

For now, EDF Renewable Energy is celebrating the wind farm it is about to complete.
Schubert attended the event in part because she is Tholke’s sister. But the Los Altos resident is also a teacher and is making a film of the project with an iPad to show to her kindergarten class. As indicated by her written comments on the blade, she sees wind energy as green energy.

“We’ve got to start early,” Schubert said.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.