California, January 8, 2004 --CropChoice news-- Associated
Press, 01/04/04: Environmentalists say dozens
of turbines that rise 100 metres over wheat fields and
herds of sheep represent the future of wind energy -
and a model for overcoming the shortcomings that have
kept wind from threatening the dominance of fossil fuels.
The High Winds Energy Center, completed in December
in the rolling hills between San Francisco and Sacramento,
features turbines that can swivel with the direction
of the wind, produce energy even if the wind is blowing
less than 13 kilometres per hour and generate 20 times
as much energy as earlier machines.
This new wind system, along with similar ones being
built elsewhere, promises to produce electricity at
competitive prices - all without disturbing surrounding
farms and wildlife, two of the obstacles for wind power
The 90 turbines at High Winds can generate 162 megawatts
of electricity, enough to power about 75,000 homes,
according to Florida-based FPL Energy, which owns and
operates High Winds along with 30 other wind facilities
in 10 states.
"This is the future of wind power," said
Ralph Cavanagh, energy program director for the Natural
Resources Defense Council. "The wind farm is becoming
a productive part of the local community. It's not an
interloper that threatens them."
Environmentalists have championed wind power for decades
because wind is a free, renewable, non-polluting resource.
But since the first large wind facilities were built
in the early 1980s, they have run into technological,
economic and political barriers. Early versions didn't
produce electricity efficiently enough to compete with
oil, coal and natural gas. Communities complained that
small forests of turbines marred the landscape, and
environmentalists fretted that the blades were killing
The new wind farm, in the Montezuma Hills north of
the Sacramento River, has overcome such issues, environmentalists
High Winds' turbines are taller, more powerful and
more efficient than older turbines, which means they
can generate more energy with fewer machines. Each turbine
generates 1.8 megawatts.
On a recent morning, the towering turbines' 38-metre
blades turned steadily, with little noise, in wind of
about 16 km/h.
Many wind farms built in the 1980s are retiring old
machines and replacing them with newer, more efficient
models similar to those at High Winds, whose turbines
were developed by Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems.
High Winds hasn't run into the kind of opposition plaguing
other wind energy projects, such as the offshore towers
proposed near Massachusetts' Cape Cod, where residents
worry that 40-storey turbines would harm ocean views,
seabirds and tourism.
In fact, landowners in the agricultural Montezuma Hills
welcome the extra income - FPL pays between $2,500 and
$4,000 US a year to lease the space for each turbine,
and the surrounding land can still be used raise animals
or grow crops.
Birds Landing farmer Ian Anderson calls the project
"good for society."
"It's more difficult to farm around (the turbines
and access roads), but it's not overwhelming. It's doable,"
he said. "We're still farming the same as before
the wind generators came in."
And unlike the wind farm in the Altamont Pass east
of San Francisco, where smaller, low-power turbine blades
have killed an estimated 22,000 birds, High Winds' turbines
rotate relatively slowly so few birds get caught.
Projects like High Winds have benefited from government
incentives such as federal tax credits and state rules
requiring utilities to increase their use of renewable
energy sources. Environmentalists hope incentives and
improved technology will boost wind from its status
as a minor player in the U.S. energy markets.
Even in California, which leads the United States in
wind power, less than two percent of the state's electricity
came from wind in 2002, according to the California
"With improvements in technology, wind power is
becoming cost-competitive with any other form of electrical
generation," said Jan Johnson, a spokeswoman for
PPM Energy, an energy wholesaler that has already sold
two-thirds of High Winds' output to cities including
Anaheim, Pasadena, Glendale and Sacramento.
"If you have a choice between any form of electrical
generation," she added, "are you going to
choose one that generates greenhouse gases, or wind