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Don’t Let Wind Energy Stall



By David Hochschild and Nancy Rader

Special to The Bee

As wind energy achieves a historic milestone – surpassing the total capacity of hydropower dams to become the nation’s largest renewable energy resource – many of California’s pioneer wind projects are in danger of shutting down.

Instead, California should promote the revival of these projects with state-of-the-art technology.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s first administration in the 1970s spawned the initial wave of utility-scale renewable energy, which launched the wind power industry globally. It is a testament to the early technology that most of the wind turbines installed in the 1980s were still in operation some 25 years later, withstanding conditions so tough that new turbine designs are often tested alongside.

Yet, these new turbines convert wind into electricity twice as efficiently as the early turbines. Modern wind turbines are also 30 times larger in size and capacity, meaning that a single new one can replace approximately 30 older ones. At the Vasco project in Altamont Pass, 432 older turbines were replaced with just 34 new ones, tripling energy generation and dramatically reducing visual impact.

In addition, considerable technological enhancements since the early 1980s have made wind energy one of the most cost-competitive sources of electricity generation today. Wind energy now supplies more than 8 percent of the state’s power supply.

Ironically, circumstances could spell the demise of many of California’s earliest wind energy projects, rather than spur their replacement with new ones.

This is an excerpt from commentary that was originally published in The Sacramento Bee on March 20, 2017. Read the full commentary here.

David Hochschild is a member of the California Energy Commission and can be contacted at David.hochschild@energy.ca.gov. Nancy Rader is executive director of the California Wind Energy Association and can be contacted at nrader@calwea.org.

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The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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