T. Boone Pickens and Texas may be the kings of Big Wind but California is catching up, buying gigawatts of green electricity from turbines planted on the windswept flatlands of … Oregon.
On Monday, Southern California Edison became the latest Golden State utility to look north, announcing a 20-year contract to buy a whopping 909 megawatts from Caithness Energy’s Shepherd’s Flat project. The 303-turbine wind farm will span two Oregon counties and 30 square miles when it goes online between 2011 and 2012. PG&E (PCG), meanwhile, signed a deal in July for 240 megawatts of wind power from Horizon Wind Energy’s turbine ranch in the same area. That’s on top of 85 megawatts it agreed to buy last year from PPM Energy (now called Iberdrola Renewables) in a neighboring county that’s part of a turbine tier of counties on Oregon’s northern border. Earlier this month the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power approved a 72-megawatt contract with Willow Creek Energy for wind power from the same area in Oregon.
So why ship electricity a thousand miles down the West Coast when California already plans to add gigawatts of in-state wind energy? In a word, transmission.
“The beauty of this particular project is that it is already fully permitted and has transmission already available,” Stuart Hemphill, Southern California Edison’s (EIX) vice president for renewable and alternative power, told Green Wombat.
“Oregon has a terrific wind resource,” he adds. “It far exceeds that in California.”
In December 2006 the utility signed an agreement to purchase 1,500 megawatts from a giant wind farm to be built by a subsidiary of Australia’s Allco Financial Group in Southern California’s Tehachapi region. But the project is dependent on the construction of new transmission lines – often an environmentally contentious and drawn-out process in California.
“It is expected to go online in 2010,” says Hemphill of the wind farm. “We’re just getting the transmission project up and running. The first three segments have been approved and we’re doing the building now.”
With California’s investor-owned utilities facing a 2010 deadline to obtain 20% of their electricity from renewable sources, expect the Oregon green rush to continue.