Thursday, June 22, 2006

SMUD Dedicates Nation's Largest Wind Turbines

SMUD Dedicates Nation's Largest Wind Turbines
By Barry Eberling

SMUD dedicated eight new wind turbines in the Montezuma Hills on Wednesday. The 415-foot towers will generate enough electricity to power about 8,000 homes. (Photo by Christine Baker)

FAIRFIELD - They have towers as tall as the Statue of Liberty and are topped by blades as long as a football field.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District bills its eight new wind turbines in eastern Solano County's Montezuma Hills as the biggest in North America. On Wednesday, it held a dedication ceremony for them on a hill above the region's bays and Delta.

The Montezuma Hills turbines will power a good many air conditioners in Sacramento, said Jim Shetler, the utility's assistant general manager for energy supply.

SMUD owns 6,345 acres in the Montezuma Hills. It has built 31 turbines, including the eight behemoths finished in May.

These new turbines are solid white, stabbing into the blue sky with grace, like some sort of oversized Christo outdoor art project. Each tower is bolted to a concrete foundation that goes 35 feet into the ground.

The turbines start generating electricity for the Sacramento area when the wind reaches 8 mph. When the wind reaches 30 mph, a single turbine will generate its maximum of about 3 megawatts, enough power for 1,000 homes. The turning blades make a sound like a plane flying overhead.

Wind is common in the Montezuma Hills, as cool ocean air gets squeezed through the gaps in the coastal hills and heads toward the hot Central Valley. The windy season is from May to September, when Sacramento is at its hottest and has its peak power demands.

"This project is a good match for us in many ways," SMUD General Manager Jan Schori said.

Steel for the towers came from Korea. The towers were manufactured in Vietnam and shipped to the Port of Sacramento. They then were trucked in four sections to the Montezuma Hills for assembly.

Each tower is hollow, with a door near the base leading inside to a room with a metal floor covered with carpeting. From there, a series of steel ladders leads up the tube to the top.

John Brown helps maintain the turbines. He once had to climb to the top and down six times in a day. His opinion of the arduous climb?

"Long," Brown said as people attending the dedication walked inside a turbine for a ground-floor look.

SMUD paid about $31 million to put up the eight turbines. The company Vestas built them.

"It's not only windy, it's very beautiful here," said Jens Soby of Vestas during the dedication ceremony. "And it's history, wind history."

Companies have built turbines in the Montezuma Hills for more than a decade. The early models still visible on some hills have blades mounted on lattice-work towers, giving them an industrial look.

It would take 30 of the early turbines to generate the electricity that comes from one of the new ones, Soby said.

Solano County allows wind turbines in much of the Montezuma Hills near Collinsville. There's the potential for a nuclear power plant's worth of clean, cost-efficient energy there, county Supervisor Mike Reagan said during the dedication ceremony.

SMUD plans to build some of those future turbines. It wants to build 21 more to generate an additional 65 megawatts of electricity by 2008. It has enough land to keep building after that, perhaps adding another 33 or so turbines.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at

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