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Alta Wind Energy Center launches construction of largest wind farm ever in U.S.

by Bob Morris, published

On Tuesday August 3, the Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC) officially broke ground in Tehachapi Pass. When completed, it could be three times larger than any existing wind farm in the US, and will output a mammoth 3 gigawatts. 

By comparison, a good-sized coal plant or nuclear reactor can produce 1 gigawatt, so we are talking huge amounts of power, enough to power 600,000 homes. There will be hundreds of modern turbines spread across thousands of acres, most of which is private land. 

Ranchers and landowners will get a major source of continuing revenue. Thousands of jobs will be created. The area will certainly experience an economic boom. Tehachapi Pass is a mountain pass between the Tehachapi and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.  It connects the San Joaquin Valley to the Mojave Desert. Differences in temperature between the two regions create wind.  Hot air from the desert rises and cooler air rushes in to replace it. The pass acts as a funnel, speeding up the wind. Thus, it’s a perfect location for wind turbines.

The same type of process happens near Palm Springs and Altamont. But those areas already have lots of turbines, and most of them are older and small. The turbines that will be installed in Tehachapi will be much larger and state of the art. 

The blade span of some modern land-based wind turbines can be as long as a football field (offshore turbines can be even bigger). One of the major logistical challenges can be getting the blades to the site.  The technology is constantly improving. Sophisticated sensors control the turbine, shutting it down if wind gets too strong or weak, or moving the blades slightly to get better wind. 

The power generated by the turbines will move via the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, a new high-voltage system that will connect renewable energy sources to the existing grid. Southern California Edison has an existing agreement to buy 1.55 gigawatts of energy from the project for the next 25 years. 

AWEC will be built and run by Terra-Gen Power, a renewable energy developer. They just closed $1.2 billion in funding for the project. So, with major funding lined up and a steady customer for power for 25 years, prospects look promising for the mega wind farm project.

In an era where investment firms too often got caught up in packaging toxic subprime slop with no thought as to the consequences, it’s heartening to see long-term investments like this. Something real, lasting and of benefit to all will be created.

The more California can create its own power, the less dependent it becomes on unpredictable world events and politics. California has huge wind, solar, and geothermal resources.

Let's use them.

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