Onshore Wind Energy
Terra-Gen, a developer of renewable energy projects, has proposed a utility-scale wind energy project to be built on ridgetops near Rio Dell and Scotia. The project is currently undergoing environmental review under the auspices of the County of Humboldt.
In February 2019, RCEA issued a solicitation for long-term renewable energy power purchase agreements (PPAs). RCEA expressed a preference for local projects built in Humboldt County. Terra-Gen submitted an offer for power from its proposed Humboldt Wind project; of 40 offers received from 13 companies, this was the only offer received by RCEA for a project to be built in Humboldt County. With our Board of Directors’ approval, RCEA staff are currently negotiating a PPA with Terra-Gen.
The following are answers to some questions we have heard from community members about wind energy in general, the Humboldt Wind project, and RCEA’s interest in buying power from this project.
Frequently Asked Questions
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has produced detailed maps showing the estimated wind energy resource across the U.S. These maps confirm that the ridges along the lower Eel River valley have some of the best onshore wind resource in Humboldt County. There are few if any other locations in the county that offer a comparable wind resource. Existing land uses in this area include ranching and commercial forestry. The landowners consider wind development compatible with these uses and are willing to lease their working lands for project development. Considering cost, resource availability, and alignment with customer loads, onshore wind offers the best near-term opportunity to generate the renewable energy Humboldt County needs locally.
Natural gas power plants still provide about one-third of California’s electricity. Building new renewable energy facilities directly enables retirement of the state’s aging natural gas-fired plants. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, natural gas-burning power plants emit on average 465 grams of CO2 for every kWh of energy generated. In contrast, the lifecycle carbon emissions attributable to wind projects average just 11 g CO2/kWh. This is similar to or less than lifecycle emissions associated with other forms of renewable energy.
Additional information on the Life-Cycle Global Warming Emissions
RCEA is an enthusiastic partner in developing wind energy using floating offshore platforms. This is an abundant resource on the North Coast; however, permitting and development of this project is expected to take five years or more and will not be available in time to help us meet our long-term contract requirements in the initial years. As a first-of-its kind project in North America, it is expected to undergo close regulatory scrutiny and will almost certainly be more expensive than mature onshore wind technology. And as a reminder that no energy technology, renewable or otherwise, is without impacts, the local fishing community has already voiced concerns about offshore wind that will need to be addressed. RCEA considers it prudent to include local onshore wind in our near-term portfolio.
An important resource for answering this question is the National Survey of Attitudes of Wind Power Project Neighbors. As explained on the Survey’s website, “In 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy funded Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to lead a 4-year project collecting data from a broad-based and representative sample of individuals living near U.S. wind power projects. The aim was to widen the understanding of how U.S. communities are reacting to the deployment of wind turbines, and to provide insights to those communities considering wind projects.” Among other things, the survey of over 1,700 residents located within five miles of a wind project in 24 different states found that 57% of these residents had positive or very positive attitudes about the project, while only 8% had negative or very negative attitudes. The survey asked residents how they perceived the fairness of the wind project planning process, and to what extent they were annoyed by sound from the wind turbines or the change to their local landscape. The 12-page summary of the Survey provides key insights about wind projects’ impacts on nearby residents.