Going Big With Onsite Wind Power In California

Slowly but steadily, onsite wind power using megawatt-or-larger turbines is making inroads with companies in California. It would be an overstatement to say big wind is joining solar as a mainstream green power option, but it’s not quite the curiosity it used to be.

Walmart grabbed the spotlight this past summer when it put up a 1-megawatt turbine at a distribution center near the Northern California town of Red Bluff. But it was Bay Area-based Foundation Windpower that actually installed and owns that turbine, and the company has completed additional projects since the Walmart job – with even more on the way soon.

onsite wind power

Superior Farms turbine in Dixon, Calif. (image via Superior Farms)

Cement maker Cemex might be the biggest fan of onsite wind. A 1-MW turbine began spinning at its quarry in Madison, about a half-hour west of Sacramento, in October. Cemex said it would provide about 30 percent of the energy the company uses to mine gravel at the site. Foundation is also well on its way to installing two turbines, totaling 3.2 MW of generating capacity, at one Cemex cement plant in Southern California, and two more turbines of the same size at yet another cement plant in SoCal.

Another Foundation Windpower project was just completed about 20 miles from Madison, in Dixon. That 1-MW turbine is expected to offset about half of total energy used by Superior Farms, a big lamb processor.

Dixon is in a “high wind area,” with average winds 12-15 miles per hour, according to Superior Farms, and that was a factor in choosing wind when it was looking for ways to lower costs and green its operations. But a key to making any onsite wind power project happen is the incentives; they help Foundation Windpower offer attractive power purchase agreements to its clients.

In a case study by the U.S. Department of Energy, Cemex said the $5 million Madison project took advantage of both a California State Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) grant and the federal production tax credit. The state program pays $1.25 per watt of installed capacity, half up front and the rest over the first five years of operation, assuming a 25 percent capacity factor is achieved. The production tax credit pays 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of wind energy produced. According to the case study, the Cemex-Madison project also included “a net metering agreement with local utility Pacific Gas & Electric, whereby the energy not used by the plant is fed to the grid under California’s net metering rules.”

While California might be the hotspot for onsite wind, the single largest onsite wind  project in the United States is the two-turbine, 3.3-MW installation at haircare-products manufacturer Zotos’ plant in Geneva, N.Y.

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.

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