California Wind Boom Powered By Delta Breezes

Nature made a wind tunnel in California. We call it the Sacramento River Delta. Through much of the year and invariably during what the National Weather Services calls the long “warm season,” cool Pacific Ocean air is sucked toward the warmer Central Valley. These winds, which start up in the afternoon and roar through the evening and night, are the reason enXco and others are rushing to put up wind turbines in the Montezuma Hills Wind Resource Area, on the north side of the river between the towns of Fairfield and Rio Vista.

Shiloh 3 is the latest wind farm to go into operation there, churning out a maximum of 102.5 megawatts (MW) of energy from 50 REpower 2.05-MW turbines. It joins Iberdrola’s 150-MW Shiloh 1 (opened in 2006) and enXco’s 150-MW Shiloh 2 (opened in 2009); NextEra’s Montezuma Hills and High Winds, which add up to 198.8 MW; and a 102-MW farm operated by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). And there are more turbines on the way: Shiloh 4, also by enXco, is expected to add yet another 100 MW of wind capacity in the Montezuma Hills, while SMUD is in the process of boosting its operations in the region by 128 MW.

shiloh 3 wind power enxco montezuma hills

image via enXco

Expiration of the production tax credit at the federal level at the end of the year could slow the momentum, but wind power continues to get a boost in California from the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires utilities to source an increasing amount of their energy from renewables. By 2020, they have to be at 33 percent. Pacific Gas and Electric is getting credit for Shiloh 3 under a 20-year power purchase agreement with enXco.

But that’s not to say wind power development always goes smoothly in the Golden State, and projects in in the Montezuma Hills have not been without issues. Shiloh 3 was slowed by objections from the Air Force, which was worried that the 80-meter towers and turbines would disrupt radar for planes landing and taking off at nearby Travis Air Force Base.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.