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Tuesday, Sep 24 2013 06:00 AM

Wind farms generate more than electricity for Kern

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Massive new wind turbines are under construction at the east end of the Tehachapi Valley, part of Terra-Gen�s Alta Wind Energy Center. Gregory D. Cook /Tehachapi News

It appears that the wind-rich mountains surrounding Tehachapi may be getting a little wealthier.

In its pursuit to build the nation's largest wind energy facility, Terra-Gen Power has been busy lately erecting massive new wind turbines south of Highway 58 and east of Tehachapi Willow Springs Road, which are part of its Alta Wind Energy Center.

The four towering 1.7 megawatt turbines are part of Terra-Gen's Alta XI wind project -- a 48-turbine wind farm comprised of 41 General Electric 1.7MW turbines and seven 2.85MW turbines assembled at the GE manufacturing plant on Jameson Road in Tehachapi.

According to Randy Hoyle, Senior Vice President and head of wind and solar development for Terra-Gen Power, the project is being built simultaneously with Terra-Gen's Alta Wind X project near the intersection of Highways 58 and 14, on land primarily owned by GE.

When completed, Alta X will be comprised of 48 of the 2.85MW wind turbines, or 136.8MW in total capacity.

Like all earlier phases of the Alta Wind Energy Center, the projects will each connect to and utilize Southern California Edison's Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project. They also will be under separate power purchase agreements carved out from a 1,550MW master power purchase agreement with SCE and will be managed, operated and controlled by Terra-Gen Power.

Combined with Alta XI, Hoyle said the nameplate capacity will be 226.5MW -- enough to generate 5,436MW hours per day at its peak maximum output -- and a lot of tax revenue for Kern County.

"Alta X and XI's first year tax revenue is anticipated to be $7 million, and in excess of $100 million over the project life," Hoyle said. "For the entire wind energy center, and annual property tax revenue of $35 million per year is anticipated."

According to Tony Ansolabehere, assistant assessor for the county, there is currently $4.5 billion of wind energy property on the assessment roll. This represents the third straight year of increases for this property type.

And while increases are significant, they have not reached the levels which were forecasted last year, but have surpassed agriculture, which still ranks behind oil and gas in assessed value in Kern County.

"However, when you add the accessed value of equipment and processing plants," Ansolabehere said. "Agriculture still out ranks wind."

In a press release dated Sept. 18, Kern County Assessor-Recorder, Jim Fitch, stated that the taxable value of all Kern County property for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2013, was at $92.3 billion -- an increase of approximately $2 billion, or slightly more than a two-percent increase in assessed values.

Single family homes in the county are the number one source of tax revenue, with an assessed value of $27 billion, followed by oil and gas with $25 billion.

Still, the county's wind farms will pump approximately $45 million into the local tax stream this year.

The county also collects approximately 0.75 percent of the state sales taxes paid by Terra-Gen on the purchase of equipment, which is comprised of primarily wind turbines during the construction phase of the project.

Hoyle estimated the sales tax to be approximately $2 million to be paid to the county in 2013-14.

Combined, all 11 of the Alta projects according to Hoyle will bring the total number of turbines in the Tehachapi area to 586 with a capacity 1,546 MW, while contributing more than $1.2 billion to the local economy in Kern County.

That's good news to Lorelei Oviatt, County Planning and Community Development AICP Director, who has been on a mission to attract renewable investment and transform Kern County into what she calls "ground zero" for green energy.

"Appropriately sited wind projects, such as Terra-Gen Power, LLC 's projects, are important to the economic stability of Kern County," she said.

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