Thursday, November 16, 2006

New Electricity is Blowing in Solano's Winds

New Electricity is Blowing in Solano's Winds
By Janis Mara/Oakland Tribune

A group gathers Wednesday at the dedication of the Shiloh Power Plant's wind turbines erected just outside of Rio Vista. (D. Ross Cameron/The Oakland Tribune)

The whirling blades of 100 giant wind turbines sent a jolt of electricity into California's power grid Wednesday as a group gathered in Rio Vista to dedicate the Shiloh Wind Power Plant.

Portland, Ore.-based PPM Energy's plant, which has been coming online gradually during the last year, is the first renewable project in the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. service area since the state's 2002 adoption of the Renewable Portfolio Standard, PG&E officials said.

The plant will help California meet the recently updated goal of getting 20 percent of its power from renewable sources such as wind energy and solar power by 2010. And it will help keep lights burning, water flowing and businesses transacting in the Bay Area and across the state, PG&E said.

Representatives of PPM Energy, PG&E, City of Palo Alto Utilities, Modesto Irrigation District, the press - and a few sheep and horses - were on hand at the Rio Vista wind farm Wednesday for the dedication.

The 30-story high turbines aren't your Don Quixote run-of-the-windmills. Combined, they can generate 150 megawatts of power at full capacity, enough juice to provide electrical power to more than 100,000 PG&E residential customers, according to Jon Tremayne of PG&E.

The event follows the passage of some of the most sweeping legislation in the country mandating new energy resources and limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Among other things, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in late September signed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which put mandatory caps in place reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Cal-ifornia by 25 percent by 2020.

The Shiloh plant will help the state stay within those limits on greenhouse gas emissions. "The plant will help offset 380 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year," said Blaine Sundwall of PPM Energy, which is part of U.K.-based Scottish Power.

California led the nation in installed wind energy for 25 years, but Texas recently claimed that distinction.

"This helps put us back on track" to recapturing No. 1 status, said Allen Short, general manger of the Modesto Irrigation District.

California has four main wind resource areas: Altamont Pass; Tehachapi Pass; San Gorgonio Pass; and this new, rapidly growing wind resources area near Rio Vista in Solano County, according to Case van Dam, a professor at the University of California, Davis. Juno Beach, Fla.-based FPL Energy also has wind turbines at the Rio Vista site.

There have been concerns over birds getting killed by the blades of the turbines in Altamont Pass. Sundwall said PPM Energy has addressed this problem with technology.

"Our towers are tubular, not latticed," Sundwall said. "Birds nest in the latticed towers and we theorize that makes them more likely to get hit by the blades as they fly in and out." He said the speed of the revolutions at this plant has been slowed to 11 to 20 revolutions per minute on the theory that the birds can see the blades better.

Wind energy plants use turbines to generate electricity. Such plants generate no emissions, unlike fossil fuel power plants. Coal-fired plants emit tons of pollutants and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury.

Though wind energy is better for the environment, it is more expensive. It costs about 6.2 or 6.3 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with current nuclear energy sources or coal, which each run around 2 or 3 cents a kilowatt hour, experts say.

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