Renewable Energy: The New California Gold Rush

There is a rush for renewable energy in southeastern California. Tehachapi-Mojave has enormous gifts of rich wind and golden sun, as well as other unique characteristics, that has the region at the edge of something as extraordinary as 1849’s Gold Rush.

Right now, the Tehachapi Mountains host the state’s biggestcircumscribed installed wind capacity and the Mojave Desert is home tothe state’s only solar power plants, a set of trough facilities fromKramer Junction to the border and a solar power tower in Lancaster.

But those installations are mere gestures at what will eventually fill a region that has what has been called “one of the great insolations inthe world” and “the state’s biggest wind potential” and “wind that peaks during peak electricity demand.”

The California Energy Commission (CEC) is in the process of definingthe region’s real potential as the state prepares its march to theobtaining of 33 percent of its power from renewables by 2020 and muchmore in subsequent decades.

33% is an initial or interim goal,” Michael Valentine, the Assistant Director of the CEC’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), and Roger Johnson, CEC’s Transmission Corridor Designation Manager, explained. And “the desert is a big part of California’s renewable energy future.”

The Tehachapi-Mojave region has roughly 1,000 megawatts (MW) ofinstalled solar and wind capacity, according to Valentine and Johnson.There are 410 MW of solar, over 350 MW in the nine NextEra-operatedSolar Energy Generating System (SEGS) trough facilities, 5 MW in theeSolar power tower and the rest in smaller, county-approvedinstallations harder for CEC to track.

Tehachapi’s Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC) and the other projects adjacent to it probably have, according to CEC numbers, some 550-to-600 MW in actual operation, though the developerssay it is closer to 710 MW – but that installed capacity is merely theproof of product.

Already approved and at some stage of construction, Valentine andJohnson reported, are 7 solar projects representing 1300 MW of peakcapacity and 6 large wind projects with an installed nameplate capacityof 1700 MW. Those 13 developments, though, were only the ones out infront of the Gold Rush.

The hardcore rush may best be represented by the projects now in the permitting process.

“In permitting in 2011,” Valentine and Johnson reported, are “61 solar projects for 3,340 megawatts and 20 wind projects for 2500 megawatts.”

Valentine and Johnson insisted these numbers be considered estimatesbecause so many factors are at play, ranging from Governor Brown’s drive for development to the region’s unabashedly vocal NIMBYs(Not-In-My-BackYard) and BANANAs(Build-Absolutely-Nothing-Anywhere-Near-Anything) who could get in theGovernor’s way (unless they get their fair share of the gold).

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