SMUD wind power plant expansion adds 15 new turbines

May 15, 2003 — Fifteen new wind turbines are now producing an additional 10 megawatts (MW) of electricity for customers of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

The wind turbines, located in the Montezuma Hills in Solano County near Rio Vista, each climb 241 feet above the ground and have rotor-and-blade assemblies with diameters of 150 feet. The $15 million wind power plant expansion can produce enough electricity to provide power to roughly 3,500 single-family homes.

SMUD plans more construction in coming years to expand the project even further. The next phase will be much larger. SMUD envisions a total project output of at least 85 MW by mid-2006. “Two years ago, SMUD’s Board of Directors set very aggressive goals for developing new sources of renewable energy, and wind power clearly will play a major role in that push,” said Jim Shetler, SMUD assistant general manager of Energy Supply.

Although commercial production wasn’t scheduled to begin until May 31, the project began producing power 60 days early, providing some $370,000 in added economic benefits based on wholesale electricity costs.

SMUD owns 3,300 acres in Solano County and first installed wind generation on the property in 1994. The turbines are built near the first turbines SMUD built in 1994. The new wind turbines have twice the generating capacity as the older units and can produce power at lower wind speeds. They also can run at higher wind speeds — up to nearly 60 miles per hour. A computer in the turbine responds to changes in wind velocity by changing the angle of the blades for maximum power generation.

Precise locations for each turbine were selected based on several years of wind data and topographical maps. As a result, the turbines are strategically placed to take full advantage of the winds that whip in from the coast, squeeze through the Carquinez Straits, and spill into the Delta. “It’s one of the superior wind sites in California, if not the best,” said Dick Wallace, project manager for the expansion of SMUD’s Solano Wind Project.

The bigger turbines also have less environmental impact. Because the blades turn slower, it’s easier for birds to see the blades and avoid flying into them. The new turbines also have pedestal towers, which means birds are not able to perch or roost near the blades.

Worldwide, wind is the fastest growing energy source with capacity quadrupling over five years to 31,000 MW at the end of 2002, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

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