Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Solano Deals in Advanced Addiction: Wind Energy

Solano Deals in Advanced Addiction: Wind Energy
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - At his State of the Union address Jan. 31, President Bush reiterated what columnists have penned for years: America is addicted to oil.

To help cure the country's addiction, Bush announced the Advanced Energy Initiative - a 22 percent increase in funding for clean-energy research such as wind power.

Solano County farmer Ian Anderson has only to look out his window at the giant wind turbines being erected to know wind energy is no pipe dream.

Anderson is a fourth-generation farmer in the hills near Bird's Landing.

He has 18 mammoth-sized wind turbines being erected on his 950-acre farm as part of the Shiloh I Wind Plant project, which is being built by Oregon-based PPM Energy.

"It's a very productive use of the land," Anderson said. "The land produces wool, meat and crops. And now it's also producing energy."

Solano joins the wind revolution

The Shiloh project will produce 150 megawatts of energy when running at full capacity.

That's enough energy to power about 45,000 households. The project is expected to be completed in March, according to PPM Energy.

Wind power is one of the most prominent sustainable energy sources in the country. It comes from an inexhaustible source: The wind. And maintenance on the turbines is limited to about 40 hours per year. The turbines have a lifespan of about 30 years. So once erected, they produce energy with few extra needs.

On Feb. 7, Solano County announced it was analyzing the environmental impacts of building additional wind turbines in Montezuma Hills. The new project, known as Shiloh II Wind Plant project, would add 114 wind turbines able to produce 171 megawatts, or another 51,300 households worth of energy. Palm Springs-based enXco Inc. would build Shiloh II if approved by the county.

Currently, California produces about 2,000 megawatts of wind energy.

So Solano County will account for more than 10 percent of the state's capacity if both Shiloh projects are completed.

Solano County is a great place for wind power, said Jan Johnson, a spokeswoman for PPM Energy.

"It's location between population centers, Sacramento and San Francisco, makes it a good choice for customers," Johnson said. "And there's plenty of wind."

The Shiloh I project has already sold all of its capacity to energy companies such as PG&E, she said.

The United States produces about 6,740 megawatts of wind energy. It's the third greatest producer in the world behind Germany and Spain, which produce 16,500 and 8,000 megawatts, respectively.

Helping the farmer

Wind power also provides additional revenue to help sustain farmers. Many land owners are finding they will make more money leasing their land for wind turbines than they make from farming or ranching.

"The income from the wind generator is greater than the income from the crops," Anderson said. "It was not a hard decision to sign on."

Overall, installing wind turbines requires less than 2 percent of the farm's land, according to the county. Farmers still make money from agriculture and livestock, and even more money from the wind turbines on top of that.

The land owners lease their land to the company building the turbines. In return, they get about 4 percent or 5 percent of the revenue. Typically, each farmer negotiates his or her own contract with the energy company, and signs a confidentiality clause preventing them from discussing the terms.

Anderson said he thinks it might be better if farmers could negotiate collectively because most farmers have limited experience in wind energy deals.

Other benefits and drawbacks

Besides income, wind turbines provide farmers and ranchers an ancillary benefit: Relief from developers.

"The farmers like it because once you get these wind mills in here it pretty much stops development," said Bill Blacklock, who has three turbines being built on his property in Montezuma Hills.

Some people don't like the looks of the turbines, Blacklock added.

"One of my neighbors said, 'I don't like the things, but if I were in your shoes I'd do the same thing,' " he said.

Blacklock created a Web site chronicling the construction of the turbines on his property. It can be accessed at www.bblacklock.dotphoto.com.

So far, construction work has been minimally invasive.

"They've been real good about correcting any problems," he said. "They've done an outstanding job."

The only significant problem with the construction was increased road traffic and problems with livestock getting out of gates that were left open, Blacklock and Anderson said.

From Anderson's standpoint, the drawbacks to having the wind turbines were few. It is now difficult, if not impossible to use airplanes to spray his crop, he said. The construction also has upset the livestock a bit.

"But the downsides don't come close to the positives," Anderson said.

Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4646 ext. 257 or nhalverson@dailyrepublic.net.

Wind Turbine Facts

Total height: 388.8 feet (equivalent to a 38-story building)
Blade diameter: 252 feet
Blade rotation: 10 to 20 rpm.
Generator: Rotates at 1440 rpm.
Lubricants: It holds 80 gallons of synthetic oil

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