PG&E to operate wind-energy plant in Kern County

AP News
Posted: Dec 03, 2009 4:38 PM

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has signed a contract to buy and operate a wind-energy project that would produce enough electricity for about 100,000 California homes.

The San Francisco-based utility said Thursday it signed the deal with Portland-based Iberdrola Renewables Inc., the U.S. arm of Spain's Iberdrola SA.

Iberdrola will build the Manzana Wind Project for PG&E, which provides electricity for most of northern and central California, on 7,000 acres in eastern Kern County.

"Usually we operate our own facilities, but in this case we will develop and build it and then PG&E will own and operate it," Jan Johnson, an Iberdrola spokeswoman, said.

The facility would be PG&E's first attempt at operating a wind power plant, which the company estimated would cost just over $900 million.

Part of that money would go to Iberdrola for building, with other costs being incurred for the infrastructure needed to tie the electricity into PG&E's power grid.

At full capacity, the wind farm would feature 164 General Electric Co. turbines that would provide 246 megawatts of electricity, or just under 1 percent of the power PG&E generates, said Jonathan Marshall, a company spokesman.

So far, Iberdrola has secured land rights to build 126 turbines that would provide about 189 megawatts of power.

"We're working on getting more so we can build out the project to the full 246 megawatts," Marshall said.

The wind farm, coupled with PG&E's plans to power about 530,000 homes through its solar developments, are the company's efforts to meet California's current renewable energy goals.

The state standards dictate that investor-owned utilities provide 20 percent of their electrical power from renewable sources by 2013, Marshall said.

Those standards are expected to get even tougher as California legislators debate bills that would require utilities to derive a third of their power from renewable sources by 2020, the toughest standards in the country.

PG&E says it plans a 25 cent rate increase for the average residential customer to help finance the wind project. The rate increase would be seen on customers' bills starting in 2012, Marshall said, if the plant is up and running as planned.

The wind power farm still needs the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission.