Friday, September 22, 2006

Spinning Energy

Spinning Energy
Wind Provides Winning Source
By Erin Pursell/Staff Writer

Wind turbines (above) reach 350-feet into the sky from the Montezuma Hills, west of Rio Vista. (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

Solano County has everything it needs to harness the power of wind.
The gusts that skim the rolling Montezuma Hills near Rio Vista provide ample breeze to spin the 90 massive wind turbines that comprise one of the largest wind farms in California.

But that is just one of many key elements needed for a successful operation.

"You need available land, access to and availability on the high-voltage transmission system and you need a customer," said Steve Stengel, corporate communications manager for FPL Energy, the largest alternative energy producer of its kind in the United States. "What you have in Solano is all of those elements that come together."

That, coupled with California's need for additional and more diverse energy resources, makes the county an ideal place for developing this kind of energy, he added.

FPL Energy corporate communications manager Steve Stengel (far left) and production lead Roger Young talk about the company's wind farm. (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

The size of FPL Energy's 6,000-acre farm, which is leased from eight different landowners, may sound daunting. But if you were to take all the roads and machinery that are scattered across the land and condense them into the actual amount of space they occupy, the farm would encompass only 60 acres, according to Stengel.

"The actual footprint we make is very small," he said.

The farm may leave little mark on the agricultural hills, but its 1.8-megawatt machines collectively produce enough electricity to power more than 40,000 California homes.

And keeping in step with statewide survey results it released earlier this week that indicate Californian's overwhelmingly positive attitude toward wind energy, FPL has its sights on growth.

"If things go well, we could begin an expansion in late 2007," Stengel said.

The project, which is now in the permitting stage, would increase the farm's capacity by 37 megawatts, creating enough power to supply an additional 10,000 homes.

The lengthy process calls for extensive environmental review including everything from avian monitoring to plant and animal surveys to analysis of the visual impacts of the equipment.

"There are a lot of environmental concerns," said Joan Stewart, who handles permits and environmental issues for FPL.

Rio Vista, however, has been able to skirt concerns over land use because agricultural areas are very compat-ible with these types of projects, she said.

The herds of cattle and sheep that share their grazing land don't seem to mind the methodical spinning of the windmill-like machines.

"It's not uncommon for cattle to graze up to the base of the turbine," Stengel laughed.

The turbines, which are about 350 feet tall from the ground to the tip of a fully extended blade, begin their revolutions when gusts reach 9 mph, and shut down at 54 mph.

FPL is just one of several wind energy producers that are utilizing the 43,000 acres zoned specifically for that use in the Montezuma Hills wind resource area alone. And only half of the reserved acreage has been developed.

"This is going to be a huge hub for wind energy," said Roger Young, production lead for FPL's Rio Vista farm.

County leaders are committed to remaining a part of one of the fastest growing regions in the country as far as wind farms go, and will enjoy the economic benefits with each additional wind turbine.

"It's a major part of our economic development strategy," Supervisor Mike Reagan said. "We're a major player now."

Erin Pursell can be reached at

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