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Google, Citi Finance Breakthrough Wind Project

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When completed, AWEC will power 450,000 homes in Southern California. (Photo: Marjin van Braak)
When completed, AWEC will power 450,000 homes in Southern California. (Photo: Marjin van Braak)

FINANCE

  • Citi and Google invest $314 for two phases of project
  • AWEC will nearly double the power of current largest US wind farm
  • Alta to power 450,000 homes after completion

Google and Citi are investing money toward what is being called the largest wind project in America: The Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC) in California will have the capacity of 1,550 megawatts, nearly double the capacity of the current largest US wind farm.

The financing agreement is structured so that investors purchase phases of the project and lease them back to Terra-Gen Power, also known as a leveraged lease. Citi and Google currently hold leases for two phases of the wind project, though Citi has also financed several phases of the project totalling roughly 570 megawatts.

Google, who has been investing hundreds of millions into wind energy, also is an investor of solar energy to power its power-hungry server farms and data centers. As a result of its current investment in the Alta project, Google now has a total of $500 million in clean energy investments.

The Alta Wind Energy Center is located at the Tehachapi-Mojave Wind Resource Area. AWEC is comprised of seven projects, with the first five projects completed in April totaling 190 turbines that produce 720 megawatts.

The energy produced is then delivered to Southern California Edison (SCE). Delivery to SCE began upon completion of phase one of the Alta-Oak Creek Mojave Project, a wind energy facility located in Kern County, California between Mojave and Tehachapi. This project involved the construction of 320 turbine generators, generating 800 megawatts of power. The Alta-Oak Creek Mojave Project falls under the umbrella of the Alta Wind Energy Center.

When completed, AWEC will power 450,000 homes in Southern California. Alta projects six and seven represent a total of 300 megawatts of power potential, totaling the production of 1,020 MW by the end of the year.

Vestas has been contracted to deliver and commission 100 new wind turbines for the the next phase of the project, which begins this fall. AWEC represents over35% of approved renewable energy contracts by the California Public Utilities Commission, including all contracts for solar, wind, and geothermal energy.

Benefits of AWEC

The estimated carbon dioxide reduction is roughly 52 million metric tons due to the Alta project. In total, AWEC will reduce almost 6 billion pounds of carbon dioxide every year, over 13 million pounds of nitrogen oxides, and 28 million pounds of sulfur dioxide.

Terra-Gen will pay over $40 million in property taxes and other costs, which will serve as money the local government can put to use.

The company anticipates Alta six and seven projects to increase wind energy jobs in California by 20%. About 3,000 additional jobs will be created in the fields of construction, operation, maintenance, and domestic manufacturing.

Major utility Southern California Edison is currently required to use 20% renewable energy. By 2020, that figure rises to a minimum of 33% required energy via renewable sources like wind and solar.

Upon completion, using AWEC alone could provide 10% of the renewable energy purchases necessary for California's regulated utilities. Projects like AWEC help promote California as a leader in clean energy, preserves air quality for locals, provides economic stability for workers, and reduces California's reliance on unclean and foreign energy sources.

Key Statistics – Wind Energy in California (source: American Wind Energy Association)

  • As of May, California produces 3,179 megawatts of wind energy, ranking the state as third in the nation for overall wind installation.
  • Wind farms currently power over 850,000 homes in California.
  • Six million metric tons of carbon dioxide can be avoided in California every year using wind power alone.
  • California is home to many large wind manufacturers including Ameron, who has at least 15 facilities state-wide, and GE Energy, the national leader in wind turbine production.
  • California's wind energy industry produced over 4,000 jobs in 2010 both directly and indirectly related to the industry.

By Nicole Manuel for
Nicole Manuel is a freelance economics, finance and blog writer with a degree in economics and over two years of experience.

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