Huge Wind Farms Coming to Mojave Desert

On the east coast, any mention of a "decade-long battle over a large wind farm" points immediately to Cape Wind and the contentious beginnings of the country's offshore wind energy industry. In California, though, the phrase brings to mind another project in perhaps an equally unlikely spot, the Alta Wind Energy Center in the Mojave Desert foothills.

According to the LA Times, project developer Terra-Gen will break ground today on the project in the Tehachapi Pass in Kern County, after nearly 10 years of permitting, bankrupted companies and concerns over noise and the usual NIMBY-related issues. Alta Wind Energy Center, or AWEC, will consist of a number of sub-projects, but if all are eventually completed it could generate as much as 3,000 megawatts of power. Even just the initial five projects, with 720 MW, could be enough to provide electricity to 200,000 homes.

With hundreds of turbines soon to be spinning in the Mojave, the desert is rapidly becoming the epicenter of renewable energy in the United States. Some areas of the Mojave receive more than twice as much solar radiation as elsewhere in the country, and there are already hundreds of megawatts of installed solar capacity. Some of the biggest proposed solar plants are also sited in the area, like the 300-MW Ivanpah Solar plant. The Mojave Solar Park, when completed in 2011, will become the world's largest solar installation at 553 MW.

As always, placement of large renewable power generating stations in the middle of the desert brings up questions of storage and transmission. Many of the projects, though, are being built near existing transmission infrastructure, and their near-term completion dates suggest the region is already well-equipped to bring the power to customers.

(Image via Alta Wind Energy Center)

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