Largest U.S. Wind Project Breaks Ground in California

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Wind Turbines Tehachapi, CA
Terra-Gen is building Alta Wind Energy as a collection of wind farms. It has already started construction on the first group of the five farms. Photo: Flickr/doug_wertman

Today, the Alta Wind Energy Center officially breaks ground for the largest wind power project in the country. The turbines will supply more than 600,000 homes in Southern California with electricity.

Situated in the Mojave Desert, the multibillion-dollar farm is about 75 miles north of Los Angeles. According to experts, once completed, this 3,000 megawatt (MW) initiative could supply three times as much energy as the country’s largest existing wind farm, the Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas.

“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,” Billy Gamboa, a renewable energy analyst with the California Center for Sustainable Energy, tells the Los Angeles Times.

Gamboa notes that this project will affect the way the industry currently handles renewable energy financing. New York-based Terra-Gen Power is a key player in the project with a $1.2 billion stake in the five wind power projects across 9,000 acres that will eventually supply a total of 570 MW of capacity.

Currently, the U.S. lags behind other countries in its renewable energy operations, including energy powerhouse China, which exceeds the U.S. in green energy investments by a cool $16 billion.

Fresh off the heels of the Energy Bill’s demise, the Alta Wind Energy Center is just the first of lofty renewable investments to come. This past January, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released the results of its two-and-a-half year study with a goal to transform 20 percent of the Eastern Interconnection’s electric energy to wind power by 2024.

The study featured analysis of wind transmission options, future scenarios and even estimated expenses of the long-term project, comparing fossil fuel expenditures with increased wind transmission power.

The Alta Wind Energy Center is expected ultimately to provide up to 3,000 MW of pollution-free electrical generating capacity, 1,550 MW of which will fulfill a power purchase agreement signed with Southern California Edison in 2006. With 720 MW of wind power, the initial projects will increase the installed wind capacity in California by more than 25 percent.

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