San Diego, Calif's No. 1 'Solar City,' Pushes Into Wind Power


Maria Gallucci

Wind turbines at the Kumeyaay project in San Diego County/Credit: Bill Morrow

Clean energy groups in San Diego County are hoping to spark a wind energy rush in a region far better known for its abundant solar power.

Advocates say that California will have to accelerate the use of utility-scale wind power to meet its aggressive renewable portfolio standard, which requires at least 33 percent of the state's electrical generation to come from clean energy by 2020. And many are banking on a future wind energy boom in San Diego County to help it succeed.

So far, however, the county's efforts to promote wind production have been sluggish, largely because of limited permitting experience and a reluctance of rural communities to embrace turbines due to aesthetic and noise concerns.

"There is wind-generation capacity out in the eastern portion of San Diego County," said Jason Anderson, vice president of CleanTECH San Diego. "But development ... is not what it could be right now, and a lot of that [is due to] political and regulatory issues."

The trade association organized its first San Diego Wind Energy Symposium on June 14 for industry officials, policy experts and community members to address the county's opportunities for wind power and the unique challenges it faces.

The City of San Diego is already an established solar leader among American cities. It has more than 6,700 solar installations totaling just over 90 megawatts — ranking first and second in California in those categories, respectively, according to Solar-California, a service that promotes solar energy.

Anderson said that adding wind farms to the county's renewables profile would be a "positive" for a region that already boasts a burgeoning wind energy equipment industry.

San Diego and surrounding counties are home to more than 40 companies that work in the wind industry supply chain, he said. CleanTECH believes that coming wind installations will be an engine for adding more green jobs.

"As these [wind] projects get off the ground, we see and hope for potential job growth and job creation in San Diego."

Iberdrola Provides Spark

Portland, Ore.-based Iberdrola Renewables, the U.S. division of the Spanish wind giant, is seen as providing a vital spark to San Diego's still-embryonic wind industry.

The company is in the permitting stages of its 200-megawatt Tule Wind Project in the McCain Valley in San Diego's East County, which will produce enough power to serve about 60,000 local homes when it goes online in 2012.

"This is the first wind farm that the county is having to permit, so they're learning the process of how to permit this as we all go through it for the first time together," Harley McDonald, Iberdrola's U.S. business developer, told SolveClimate News.

Iberdrola is the second-largest wind developer in the United States behind Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy Resources, with 4,600 megawatts of wind projects up and running. In California, the firm has a 45-megawatt wind farm in Palm Springs and a 150-megawatt farm in Solano County.

It has also proposed the 246-megawatt Manzana Wind Project in the Tehachapi region of Eastern Kern County, which will become the first wind project owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, California's biggest utility.

San Diego County has up to 6,900 megawatts in potential wind power resources, of which up to 1,530 megawatts — enough to power roughly 380,000 households — is available for development, according to a 2005 report by the California Energy Commission.

The county's only existing wind farm is the 50-megawatt Kumeyaay Wind Farm. Its developer, Invenergy, has teamed up with San Diego Gas & Electric to add another 160-megawatt installation called Kuymeyaay Wind II in the same area. The projects are on Campo tribal land and thus not within San Diego County's permitting purview.

Statewide, nearly 3,200 megawatts of wind power are online, representing about 8 percent of the nation's total installed capacity, with another 600 megawatts under construction, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

The majority of projects are located around the San Francisco Bay Area and Palm Springs, where wind resources are considered to be among the best in the state, and where land is already dotted with turbines, McDonald said.

"Those areas have been developed for years, so if there was any land available for development, it was easy to go [there] because the county already understood what the process was," she said. "The developer knew what they needed to do, and landowners were familiar with what it meant to have a wind farm on their property."

But now, she explained: "Developers are looking around the state at other spots that have good wind resources, and it just so happens that East County San Diego has a great wind resource.

"There are many places where you can put solar farms, but there are only so many places where you can put wind, and we have to go where the wind is."

Familiar Permitting Hiccups

Iberdrola began its Tule wind project in 2005 and recently wrapped up its environmental impact and wind resource studies. The wind farm spills across county, tribal and federal lands, and the developer is aiming to finalize its permits with agencies in all three jurisdictions by early next year.

McDonald said the project has faced challenges typical of any wind farm, namely having to manage residents' concerns about environmental and visual impacts, noise from turbines and overall uncertainty of what to expect.

Scott Anders, director of the Energy Policy Initiatives Center at the University of San Diego's School of Law, noted that the majority of San Diego County's 3 million residents live along the Pacific Coast or in the county's 18 cities, while the unincorporated lands to the east remain sparsely populated.

"The people who live out there live out there for a reason, and some people feel like 'You're screwing up our scenery here'" by installing wind turbines, he said.

Not Yet 'Open for Business'

Anders said that while San Diego County has taken an active approach to easing the permitting process for residential and business solar energy systems, it hasn't done much with regard to streamlining large-scale wind power projects.

"Our county hasn't embraced wind to say, 'Let's go after it, let's put up a sign that says we're open for business,'" he said.

Lisa Bicker, president and CEO of CleanTECH San Diego, said that tapping the county's wind resource is key to San Diego one day leading the state's clean energy economy.

"Our job at CleanTECH San Diego is to make sure that San Diego is ... providing more green jobs and better jobs for the entire spectrum of our citizenry," she said in opening remarks at the June wind symposium.

"We need to have a constructive, productive, solution-oriented conversation about how we can access those wind resources, whether they are micro-wind opportunities ... or larger scale projects."

Adding wind power to its solar-dominated portfolio could also help San Diego Gas & Electric meet its required 11.9 percent of renewable electricity generation by 2020.

McDonald of Iberdrola said: "All renewable energies are going to be needed. I don't think that wind is the ultimate answer, but it is definitely part of the equation that is going to answer the state's need."