By Jonathan Marshall
Now that fall has officially arrived, Mother Nature will once again start favoring wind energy over solar. So the timing was excellent for today’s dedication ceremony for the Shiloh IV Wind Project in Solano County. This 102.5 megawatt facility will begin delivering clean, renewable energy to PG&E in December—enough to serve the needs of about 40,000 average homes.
The owner, EDF Renewable Energy, replaced 235 vintage 1989 turbines with 50 state-of-the-art models, each boasting 20 times as much rated capacity. Because the new turbines spin under a wider range of wind conditions, the updated plant should deliver 10 times as much energy as before, according to EDF.
On hand for the Champagne-free blade-signing ceremony were families of EDF employees and more than two dozen students from Rio Vista High School, who will benefit from EDF’s donation of two older turbines to the school’s Renewable Energy Program.
Also attending were a host of dignitaries, including Fong Wan, PG&E’s senior vice president for energy procurement. He thanked Solano County for its continued support renewable energy as a source of economic growth, and EDF for its leadership in developing renewable energy projects throughout California.
“Shiloh IV continues to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to provide PG&E’s customers with sustainable green power today and as California marches forward into a clean energy future,” Wan said in a prepared statement. “PG&E delivers some of the cleanest energy in the nation to our customers, more than half of which comes from sources which are carbon free. We congratulate EDF Renewable Energy for their continued leadership in this vital area.”
Wan noted in his remarks at the ceremony that PG&E last year sourced more than 19 percent of its power from eligible renewable sources. According to the utility’s new 2011 Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Report, the largest share of those renewables—31 percent—came from wind. (The runner-up was geothermal, at 26 percent.)
Although solar gets most of the attention these days, wind power still dwarfs it in most parts of the country. This summer, the total installed wind capacity in the United States passed the 50 gigawatt milestone, an historic achievement. According to the American Wind Energy Association, that’s enough to power 13 million American homes. By replacing the equivalent of 44 coal-fired power plants, these wind farms prevent the release of as much carbon dioxide as taking 14 million cars off the road.
Unfortunately, the outlook for the industry is cloudy. Wind developers are rushing to complete projects before the end of the year, to qualify for federal production tax credits of 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour. Attempts to extend the credits have stalled in Congress, raising fears that developers will slash their current rate of expansion next year. The chief executive of one major wind turbine manufacturer said he expects the U.S. market to shrink by 80 percent in 2013.
As Mark Tholke, vice president for EDF Renewable Energy’s Southwest Region, said in a prepared statement, “Policy support, such as California’s 33 percent mandate for renewable energy and the federal Production Tax Credit, are critical for a stable wind industry focused on continued technological improvement.”
Email Jonathan Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org.