There’s a new agricultural crop coming to Santa Barbara County:
A wind development corporation is planning to erect 60 to 80
large wind turbines on a windy ridge south of Lompoc. These
turbines would produce between 80 million and 120 million watts of
peak power. Taking into account the intermittent nature of wind,
this energy output is equivalent to about 350 million
kilowatt-hours annually — enough to satisfy the annual electric
needs of about 40,000 homes.
The turbines would be sited on land owned by families who have
been farming and ranching in our county for generations. Their
willingness to enter into an agreement with the developer, and
Southern California Edison’s willingness to purchase the
electricity under the terms of a long-term power purchase
agreement, make the project a win-win situation for all the
cooperating parties. It’s also a huge win for all of us living in
Santa Barbara County who care about emissions, global warming, and
an energy future using significant renewable resources.
Wind development is growing nationally and internationally. At
last count, there were 11,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity
in the U.S. This $15 billion investment produces enough electricity
to power more than 4 million homes. Texas has the most installed
wind capacity, followed by California, Iowa, and Minnesota.
Modern wind turbines are much more powerful than the first
generation of machines installed at Altamont Pass. Today’s
generators are more than 250 feet tall with blades 160 feet from
hub to tip. Even in strong winds, the blades turn only 15 times per
minute. This virtually eliminates threats to birds and reduces
nearby noise to a low hum. The Audubon Society has wholeheartedly
endorsed wind power, pointing out that birds are 10,000 times more
likely to perish from other human causes.
While it’s true that wind is intermittent, careful technical
studies conducted by electric utilities have shown the utility grid
can easily absorb a 25 percent share of wind generation with no
loss in reliability or stability. Very accurate wind forecasts can
be made one day ahead. This gives utilities the means of scheduling
their use of wind-generated electricity, the same way they do for
power-plant outages, high air conditioning loads, and generator
maintenance. When the wind generators are operating, the utility
can reduce its gas turbine operations or curtail its power
purchases from other power producers using conventional energy
sources. On calm days, the utility can obtain power from these same
When wind generation is dispersed throughout a large region,
calm weather in one location is generally balanced by windy weather
elsewhere. And since the turbines are sited on the most favorable
locations, maximum wind is harvested by design.
When carefully sited, modern wind turbines produce 40 to 45
percent of their maximum rated power annually. Most other energy
sources also produce far less than their theoretical annual output.
Solar cells don’t operate at night. Nuclear plants are often shut
down for months for maintenance or repair. Gas turbine electric
plants may operate only 10 to 25 percent of the time. Hydroelectric
plants are captive to snow melt. While no energy source offers a
totally free lunch, wind’s benefits far outweigh its costs.
Wind generators usually replace natural gas turbines in the
regional electric generation mix. The gas turbines’ main emissions
are carbon dioxide and water vapor. Carbon dioxide is the most
significant greenhouse gas. Wind turbines produce no emissions
whatsoever. It’s a terrific deal: Wind energy is non-polluting, and
the wind isn’t likely to stop blowing during the 20-plus year
lifespan of the development.
Solar panels would have to be installed on 40,000 homes to
produce a comparable amount of green electricity. Realistically,
this isn’t going to happen anytime soon in Santa Barbara County.
With good logistical support, 100 wind turbines can be erected in
about four months (after permits are issued). Wind generation is a
mature multibillion-dollar industry in the U.S. and there are
construction firms who specialize in this kind of work. Clipper
Wind, one of America’s premier wind generator companies, is located
While wind isn’t the only answer to the problems of global
warming and our reliance on imported petroleum, it’s a major part
of the solution. The farmers with the windy ridge are doing all of
us a huge favor. We should embrace and encourage this beneficial
technology. It’s time to welcome the sight of wind turbines
spinning slowly on the horizon.
For more information, visit the Web site of the American
Wind Energy Association at awea.org.