Off the grid: TV tries on extreme energy efficiency

The cast of Falling Skies.
The Twilight Zone episode "The Midnight Sun" chronicles the last days of Earth through the eyes of two women.

Stuck in an apartment building, they try to hang on as the planet heats to an inferno.

A man with a gun steals their water, which is invaluable as most of it boils off into the atmosphere. He apologizes. Then the thermometer bursts, oil paintings melt and the women pass out.

A surprise ending reveals that the earth is actually spinning away from the sun, becoming inhospitably cold. The overheated scenario is revealed to be a fever-fueled nightmare of one of the women. Everybody's going to die but by freezing, not frying.

A darker view of the future

That TV show originally aired Nov. 17, 1961, near the height of the Cold War when many could see the end of the world, or at least imagine it. The Twilight Zone was hardly alone reflecting the fears rife within popular culture. Horror films with political overtones experienced a renaissance. The anti-hero emerged. And negative realism supplanted much of the just-so attitude of the previous decade.

The economic collapse, the unknowns surrounding climate change and the threat of a finite supply of fossil fuels appears to be giving rise to similar doomsday sentiment. TV has taken up the challenge of answering the question: "What if life as we know it collapsed?" with a couple of slickly produced shows.

But 21st century popular culture doomsday isn't obliteration, it's discussing life without the grid -- a grim return to civilization without the niceties of electronics or central government.

Falling Skies

Watch "Falling Skies" on TNT for a glimpse into life without modern conveniences and an alien invasion threatening every remaining human. Every scene has a dark cast, while the stars worry about their next meals and never seem to have time for a shower.

The stand-out character is Colin Cunningham, who plays longhair and all around bad boy John Pope. Pope knows nothing is like it used to be and acts accordingly. His humanity, not all that sophisticated to begin with, gets tested occasionally with the sometimes soap opera story lines. But he comes through in a pinch when survivors need a weapon to kill the invading "skitters."

Soon NBC will debut  "Revolution," a J.J. Abrams drama centered around doomsday. This time all electronics fail and the United States is plunged into a world better suited to 19th century lifestyles. Of course, the transition likely wasn't so fun with cities full of desperate and starving people, so the show begins at year 15 when "life is back to what it once was long before the industrial revolution: families living in quiet cul-de-sacs, and when the sun goes down, the lanterns and candles are lit."

Of course, that won't last. Conflict is certain as, well, the next episode.

A beginner's guide

Chris Neiger jumps right into the issue writing a beginner's guide to living off the grid.

Neiger offers a straightforward approach. His target audience is the weekend enthusiast, the type who would like to experience a step back from technology and civilization but still keep it close.

"Some have already made the switch," he writes, adding that many more are considering severing ties.

Makes sense, especially in the eastern half of the United States where a major storm knocked out power at the end of June 2012. Residents lived days with stifling hot homes, backed up traffic because the lights didn't work and an economy reduced to old-style ledgers and hauling water because the pumps don't work. Refrigerator dumping was a must. A massive storm knocked down utility poles like toothpicks and cut power to an estimated 1.8 million.

Those folks got a taste of what could be. Most would prefer that the authorities keep the peace, that utility workers put up new poles and string new wire.

Fun with electromagnetics

But what if some terrorist organization set off an electromagnetic pulse bomb (a scenario chronicled beautifully by author Theresa Shaver in her book, "Land") or if the sun sent a massive solar flare our way?

Dan Vergano of USA Today describes an EMP this way: "Whether powered by geomagnetic storms or by nuclear blasts, their resultant intense magnetic fields can induce ground currents strong enough to burn out power lines and electrical equipment across state lines."

Nice. Like that, we go from civilized to candle power.

Of course, this kind of situation has nothing to do with the living green. But if the above scenario took place, the practice would indeed have merit. Sure, some now may be considering an alternative energy lifestyle. But they appreciate the finer things we've developed as a nation. My use of doomsday is for illustrative purposes only.

What would it take?

Being forced into alternative energy is hardly optimal.

Neiger's piece did make me think, however.

He spells out what it takes. First you'll need power. The average American home uses 11,496 kilowatt hours of electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Neiger suggests combining wind and solar systems. Not that this setup would be immune from a natural or wartime electromagnetic blast. But it could likely be repaired. I advise adding some backup lead-acid bus batteries.

The off-grid home also would need access to water. This can be done through a well and a submersible pump, which requires power. Waste water needs a septic system. Gray and black water can be separated, reducing the load on the septic tank.

Then there's heat. Neiger suggests propane, which can be delivered cheaply and would also be used for the cook stove, a water heater and fridge. A very reliable alternative for heat is wood. Modern wood stoves reach an extremely high interior heat, reducing smoke. Tip: well insulated homes need less fuel to heat or cool.

"Many people who go off the grid make gradual steps to energy self-sufficiency," Neiger writes. "It starts with conservation and then snowballs into alternative energy sources."

Neiger says to expect to spend money. And that's true. However, the more basic package is relatively cheap.

On O'Connor Road

I grew up off grid. Really not that big a deal. Were civilization to collapse when I was a kid living in the sticks in Fairbanks, Alaska, I suspect we'd be fine. I'd get a little more sick of salmon, moose and rabbit, but not much else would change.

We had multiple buildings, super-insulated and not real big. We had a septic tank for gray water. That's sink water by the way. The outhouse required a 50-foot sprint on cold days. Mom bought the 10 acres for $7,500 in 1970 and built an 18-by-32 foot two-story house, a separate eight-sided sauna and barn for about $18,000. Expect to pay more today, but keeping it simple reduces costs.

We melted snow in winter, collected rain water in summer. We did get electricity, but many of our neighbors lived too far to afford installing poles. They used candles and kerosene.

We heated our house with wood. I cut it up in summer, split and stacked it in massive piles and burned it when the snow started to fly. Some neighbors used coal from the Usibelli Mine delivered once a year.

A post by Spy Vondega on says, "Some of those who opt for the simple life are driven by environmental concerns or religious beliefs; others fear economic collapse; and some just enjoy hunting and fending for themselves."

And some may choose to do it as an investment.

California utility gears up for alternative energy

The Modesto Irrigation District is gearing up for clean energy in a big way and is closing in on its mandated California renewables requirement.

The small central California utility has built a modern power plant that has the flexibility to support the more sporadic energy generation supplied by the region's wind turbines and solar installations.

"Our projected 2012 green energy mix is 26 percent wind and 2 percent other green resources," says Melissa Williams, MID spokeswoman.

Williams says the "other" category includes Fiscalini Farms’ methane gas digester, which powers the specialty cheesemaker's operation and about 300 homes, and solar.

MID supplies power to an area dominated by Modesto, the largest of its communities with a population of about 201,000. Its service area includes smaller communities of Salida, Empire, Waterford, Mountain House and parts of LaGrange, Riverbank, Ripon, Escalon and Oakdale.

Williams says MID has "actively pursued and procured green energy" to comply with California’s mandated renewable energy portfolio standard of 33 percent renewables by 2020. Other utilities in California, including Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison and Sacramento Metropolitan Utilities District, also are vigorously pursuing the clean energy requirement.

The goal doesn't come easy. Renewable energy to a large degree energizes the electrical grid only when the sun shines or the wind blows. Only hydropower and geothermal can be regulated more like plants fired either by fossil fuels or nuclear fission.

MID built its Woodland 3 Reciprocating Engines Generation Plant with six 20-cylinder Wartsila 34SG units that operate on natural gas. Helsinki, Finland-based Wartsila Corp. says it specializes in technological innovation and efficiency.

Williams says the 49.6 megawatt power plant "provides us with flexible, economical, clean and fast-starting peaking generation to balance and back up our green energy resources like wind and solar." She says the Wartsila engines can run at 50 percent capacity with very little loss of fuel efficiency, and the plant can ramp up half an engine at a time to fill in any gaps in wind and solar generation.

The concept is to ensure adequate power for MID's customers. Williams also says the plant is quiet and that the facility has advanced emission controls and very low water use.

"The Wartsila units will be the backstop for MID, helping us maintain reliable, dependable service to our customers even with the substantial influx of non-traditional, intermittent resources like wind and solar," says Richard Smith, the utility's project manager for the Woodland 3 Project, in a statement.

Williams also notes that her utility's overall 2012 projected power mix includes 10 percent hydro, most of which comes from its Don Pedro powerhouse at Don Pedro Reservoir. The project is shared with the nearby Turlock Irrigation District.

The hydropower doesn’t count as green in California.

There's a big rush in California by solar operators. A recent look at a list supplied by the California Public Utilities Commission shows dozens of installations proposed.

Many come online with very little fanfare. For instance a 45-megawatt plant just opened in Avenal in PG&E territory. And more are coming. The community of Corcoran plans to lease land for a 15 megawatt plant near its waste water treatment plant, for example.

Williams says the economy is playing a role. 

"Some are making small energy efficiency home improvements, but with the depreciation of home values many are hesitant to move forward with more expensive energy efficiency measures," she says.

Yet, Williams says MID has seen steady interest in solar and strong commitments from its commercial and industrial customers to make energy efficiency retrofits and pursuing more sustainable policies similar to the model set by leaders like Wal-Mart.

Photo: Courtesy MID 2004 annual report.

Top 8 clean energy job sectors for Class of 2011

Listening to the graduation speeches made my mind wander.

In between a lot of "hopes," "follow your dreams" and reminisces that could have been read from an old Archies comic, I thought of the reality facing the class of 2011. It isn't pretty. High jobless rates, declining wages and an uncertain economy add up to a fast-food career. For all the pundits know, the United States is on track to follow Japan's 20 years of economic malaise.

Yeah, I'm a cynic. Twenty-four years of journalism can do that.

So I tried to imagine a better spin. Where are the bright spots?

For almost two years now, I've worked on the outskirts of clean energy and energy efficiency, consuming all the news I can find on the direction of this business. From what I can tell, it's about to take off on a number of fronts. But the rush just isn't there -- yet. And some technologies may go bust.

However, some clean energy sectors show promise for job growth. Here's a look at some that crossed my desk recently that may even give a philosophy major a chance at a job:

1. Electric cars -- The era of a fossil-fuel free automobile provides untold opportunity and likely a dump truck load of challenges for engineers, planners, mechanics and sales people. Here's a mode of transportation straight out of movie version of a Phillip K. Dick sci-fi novel. How it's really going to work nobody really knows. But many of us have high hopes. Planners will have to figure out how to install sufficient recharging stations. I foresee business owners getting into the picture. Imagine ads like this: "Low on power? Stop by the Sports Grill. Free charge with two draft beers. Micro brews extra." And tow truck drivers should be in an excellent position to retrieve vehicles with bone-dry batteries.

2. Energy storage -- Should renewable energy continue its expansion and even accelerate its development, a big push will be on finding ways to sequester that power for later use. Wind turbines generate energy when the wind blows and sit idle when it doesn't. Likewise, solar panels don't do a lick of good when the sun sets. With nuclear looking like a dim variable these days because of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi disaster, utilities are scrambling not only with electrical grid upgrades but for a power source that can complement these down times. Ucilia Wang of Earth2tech reports on a promising development from General Electric that incorporates natural gas-fueled power plants with renewable energy. The natural gas kicks in when power generation from the other slows. "This hybrid power plant strategy could be even more effective in promoting renewable electricity generation than any plan to sell stand-alone solar or wind farm equipment," Wang writes. There you go. Other ideas like water storage for later generation need to be refined by engineers and the solutions marketed to cities and power companies across the nation. And here's one that boggles the mind: A pilot project for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority would use lithium-ion battery technology to store captured energy from rail cars "through a regenerative braking process and then utilize the energy for accelerating trains," according to a statement. This would supply "megawatt level energy storage" and potentially 32 more projects. Jobs would materialize in construction and across the board as projects of all sorts crank up.

3. Wind -- From offshore on the East Coast to farm fields in Eastern Washington, this sector is gaining speed. California's Sierra Mountains offer great promise of continued development. Construction has started on a 120-megawatt wind turbine project near Tehachapi started early in 2011, and the Tehachapi Wind Energy Storage Project was recommended by the California Energy Commission for $1 million in Public Interest Energy Research Program funds. Meanwhile, Southern California Edison has invested heavily in its Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, which will deliver the energy to market. Construction on the project is now under way. And that's just a sliver of what's going on. Jobs in construction and maintenance are just the obvious ones. Development and innovation will continue, employing scientists, engineers and support teams.

4. Energy efficiency -- Long considered the "low-hanging fruit" of conservation efforts, energy efficiency is also the most cost-effective and simple to do. In fact, many solar installers ask homeowners to also get an energy audit. Auditors identify areas in a house where energy conservation measures can complement a new solar system. This sector extends to municipal buildings, commercial buildings and anything that uses power, like street lights. At the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, we administer energy efficiency projects for 36 jurisdictions in two of our grants that will save 5.4 million kWh. Jobs in this sector aren't huge unless weatherization is factored in. I also expect a massive shift in design as lessons learned in the past few years are incorporated into future building plans. That will mean more jobs for those who can develop and market products that enhance energy efficiency. Insulation companies may expect to do a bang-up business, for instance.

5. Building information modeling -- This may be a sleeper. Building information systems are expected to become increasingly important and complex, enabling programmers to optimize environmental controls and save money. Cost savings in a building with such features can save a third or more over a conventional building in which each thermostat, light and utility system is operated by hand. While it sounds like something out of "2001: A Space Odyssey," this management practice is all the rage in high-rise towers and smaller commercial buildings. Homes may not be too far behind. Jobs would be in computer technology, development, installation and operation and maintenance -- all relatively high-tech and well paid. Of course, nobody wants to hear the mainframe say something like HAL 9000 told spaceman Dave: "I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen."

6. Climate change -- This one may be contentious, but the data, melting polar ice and weird weather give even the biggest doubter pause. Nation magazine columnist Alexander Cockburn rightly points out the flaws in the technical arguments (read his "Anthropogenic Global Warming is a Farce" article for an blatant example of what opponents cite.) However, even if we're just experiencing a temporary warming trend similar to the "highly inconvenient Medieval Warm Period, running from 800 to 1300 AD, with temperatures in excess of the highest we saw in the 20th century," it will still mess with Bangladesh, New Orleans and any other seaside concentration of humanity. There will be huge challenges, leading to all sorts of suffering and economic disaster and, of course, opportunity for the forward-thinking municipal planners and entrepreneurs. Likewise, the air isn't getting any better and won't until we figure out a way to slow or stop pumping millions of tons of pollutants into the skies every minute. Jobs include scientists, movers, engineers and every level of medical practitioner.

7. Solar -- We came across a list of 93 solar projects representing 64,000 acres of panels planned for the San Joaquin Valley. These are the projects that have no problem passing state wildlife review. That's huge, and the scenario is likely being repeated elsewhere across the country where sunny days outnumber cloudy ones. I believe that once those Valley projects are built, others will follow. Analysts and people in the business agree that solar power will reach cost parity with fossil fuels in five years or less. That means solar will go nuts. Expect every rooftop in the Valley to have solar. At least owners will be scheduling installation or thinking about it after receiving the AC bill.

8. Biofuels -- This is one of my favorites. Advances in algae fuel are bringing the concept of farming pond scum for your car closer to reality. Isobutanol and cellulosic ethanol offer very real returns. And biodiesel from various crops shows increasing promise as crude oil prices creep up and show every indication of remaining high. Jobs? Who the heck knows? This is a big variable that could rattle the entire industry, shake up the Middle East and provide national energy security or go the way of cold fusion. I'm hoping for the former.

So there's hope. Jobs won't look like they did. But will evolve.

I often wonder what will become of journalism now that my beloved newsprint sector has dwindled to near extinction. Maybe the electronic newsroom will experience a resurgence and drag old veterans like myself back for another shot at daily news glory. Maybe not.

Whatever happens, I just hope clean energy offers our graduates opportunity. And decent pay.

Photo: My wife Peggy and son Calvin at Clovis High School graduation. That's me in the background with my granddaughter on my shoulders.

Can China hijack green energy?

Rare earth may determine the future of clean energy.

I'm not talking about Gil Bridges and Ray Monette of the rock band Rare Earth, noted for such hits as "Get Ready" and "I Just Want to Celebrate," although that does make a sort of poetic sense. The band is back together and touring, after all.

No, I'm talking about world domination by China of an industry so important, it's success or failure may mean the difference between survival and mass evacuation in low-lying countries like Bangladesh.

Much of the clean energy industry depends upon extremely obscure elements that have come to be known as rare earth. They have names like lanthanum, cerium, yttrium and neodymium and are used in the manufacture of electric car batteries, wind turbines and solar panels. China has spent the past several years locking up supply of these elements, planning ahead and banking on their value escalating.

And the stakes are high. The recent study, "Energy Policy," by Stanford University professors Mark Delucchi and Mark Jacobson says wind, water and solar could supply all of our energy needs in 20 to 40 years. While that may be unlikely given today's energy mix, the sector is sure to increase despite the domination of increasingly costly and damaging fossil fuels.

Rare earth elements, while relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust, are hard to find in "minable concentrations," as the U.S. Geological Survey explains in its 2010 rare earth report. Thus the problem -- and the name.

China, according to USGS, has reserves of 55 million metric tons, while the United States has 19 million metric tons. Both countries dominate known reserves. However, China is better positioned to take advantage of its mines.

"China accounts for 97 percent of the worldwide rare earth metal production and the country's new export quotas have caused prices to skyrocket," write Euan Sadden and Kerry-Ann Adamson of Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research in the May 2011 report "Rare Earth Metals in the Cleantech Industry."

That means if a company wants to build batteries, wind turbines or solar panels, it likely must get its materials from China. However, the Chinese are hardly slouches at trade and their manufacturers have already begun to dominate production of solar panels. Analysts say they intend to the same with the rest of the cleantech industry.

U.S. and European companies looking to build the massive collector sites for wind may find themselves with no other competitive alternative other than purchasing from Chinese suppliers. And for an emerging industry dependent upon falling prices for more universal adoption reliance on a single source could be bad. Real bad.

Ian Fletcher, author of "Free Trade Doesn't Work" and Huffington Post blogger, frames the debate in simple terms.

"Why are they important? For example, the so-called rare earths among these materials are needed to make the super-strong magnets that are needed whenever you want to mechanically generate (or consume) electricity efficiently," Fletcher writes in a recent post. And he says that according to estimates in the recent book "Red Alert," by Stephen Leeb, a 3-megawatt wind turbine contains about 2 tons of rare earth metals.

"Even a humble Toyota Prius contains 22 pounds of lanthanum in its battery," he says. "No lanthanum, no electric cars."

But the news isn't all bad.

Fletcher noted that Congress in 2010 passed the Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act, which states that it is meant to "to assure the long-term, secure, and sustainable supply of rare earth materials sufficient to satisfy the national security, economic well-being, and industrial production needs of the United States."

This apparently kept the Mountain Pass mine in California's Mohave desert in domestic hands. Fletcher said Australia similarly checked a Chinese buyout in 2009.

Activity at the Mountain Pass mine, according to USGS, resumed operation in 2007, producing refined rare earth products. The federal agency's report also detailed efforts to develop other commercial-grade mine sites, saying that investment and exploration "surged" in 2010. Sites included Bear Lodge in Wyoming; Diamond Creek in Idaho; Elk Creek in Nebraska; Hoidas Lake in Saskatchewan, Canada; Lemhi Pass in Idaho-Montana; and Nechalacho (Thor Lake) in Northwest Territories, Canada.

Other sites included Dubbo Zirconia in New South Wales, Australia; Kangankunde in Malawi; Mount Weld in Western Australia, Australia; and Nolans Project in Northern Territory, Australia.

The jury's still out. China's in serious production mode as only a state-controlled economy can dictate. But U.S. capitalism has a way of overcoming challenges. The clean energy industry, at least from a purely job creation perspective, offers some very good opportunities worldwide.

It would be nice for the home team to win this one or at least become a World Cup scale competitor.

In the meantime, the band Rare Earth offers this bit of wisdom I'd like to see implemented: "Fe Fi Fo Fo Fum, Look out baby now here I come."

Green jobs? Heck yes, workers say

Those on the unemployment line aren't the only ones hoping for a break.

Many who are out of work or have had to take anything the job market has had to offer these past two years are hunting and/or daydreaming about a better position and future. And all this tepid economic news about a slow recovery -- coupled with almost daily reports of growing fallout by shadow foreclosure inventory and about 25 percent of U.S. homeowners under water on their mortgages -- doesn't help.

The recession-plagued economy has elevated interest in so-called green jobs, especially when a number of reports tout the up-and-coming sector's influence. Yet when these forecast jobs materialize and what they will look like remain as hazy as the view from Fresno to the Sierra Mountains. (For those who haven't gotten the opportunity to see what I'm referring to, let's just say it's very hazy and sometimes muddy.)

San Francisco-based research and advisory firm Clean Edge Inc. offers some clarity and digestible information with its report "Clean Tech Job Trends 2010." Company co-founder Ron Pernick, senior editor Clint Wilder and research associate Trevor Winnie summarize and gather data from other reports and bring their own findings to plot out a fairly optimistic view of the future of clean tech in the realms of wind, solar, water, materials and transportation.

"There are many challenges facing the sector, but clean energy and more broadly, clean tech, offer some of the largest growth opportunities on the global economic horizon," they write.

Clean Edge carves the market into four parts: energy, transportation, water and materials. Energy includes everything from wind, biomass and the smart grid. Transporation includes battery technology, trains, hybrids and hydrogen. Water includes recovery and capture, drip irrigation and energy efficient desalination. Materials includes bio-based materials, green chemistry and building materials and reuse and recycling.

The list is diverse and the job requirements even more so. But promise radiates from every sector.

Clean Edge says its research shows that "the solar photovoltaic industry alone now represents approximately 300,000 direct and indirect jobs globally, while the wind-power sector includes more than 500,000 direct and indirect jobs worldwide."

Not bad. It also cites reports that say Ireland, Denmark and Great Britain are on track to receive about 40 percent their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, following the lead of Portugal which reportedly is to reach 45 percent this year.

Of course, all this comes with a downside. Renewables -- at least on their face and not including all the damage done by greenhouse gas emissions -- cost more than fossil fuels. Without government assistance, they can fall flat. For instance, Spain -- a leader in solar -- is reportedly pulling subsidies, or feed-in tariffs, for renewables, threatening the future of many new projects and others countries are doing the same to a lesser degree.

And in the blogosphere, the issue has generated controversy. A comment on a story about incandescent bulb plants disappearing got this from a responder calling him or herself John Galt: "A set of technologies and products created at great cost to solve a problem that had already been solved (generating electricity), at costs considerably higher than the costs of the technologies they seek to supplant? My 12 year old daughter knows that’s a losing business proposition."

Environmental strategist and author Andrew Wilson says the debate over green jobs is far more nuanced than simply focusing on solar panel installers. He writes in that the international job market is facing a choice of decline or prosperity, with fossil fuels comprising the former.

"Oil is basically at peak production globally, and coal plants are nearly impossible to build in the U.S. anymore," Wilson writes. "Even as the world demands more energy, and even as fossil fuel production continues, these companies will continue to get more efficient with labor. So don't count on the fossil guys to create new wealth and jobs."

Wilson and Clean Tech point to a future of green-related jobs over a wide array of industries, linked only by concept. The mainstays, solar and wind, will provide positions but the multiplier effect comes from the spin-offs, the related support and supply jobs.

"There are more subtle shifts in labor going on as companies that did one thing in the old economy are finding their skills useful in the new one," Winston writes. He cites the case of an oil-patch cable company laying undersea electrical transmission lines for offshore wind turbines.

Pernick and Wilder at Clean Edge acknowledge clean tech needs assistance from government. They called for five national policies and initiatives they believe could play a critical role in ensuring clean-tech growth and job creation.

The first is requiring that a certain percentage of power generation come from renewables. The others were supporting green infrastructure development, enforcing emissions rules, establishing green banks, bonds and funds and implementing carbon taxes.

So what's it mean? Clean Tech's report listed the top metro areas with clean tech job activity. At Nos. 1 and 2 were San Francisco and Los Angeles. Boston came in at No. 3, with New York, Denver and Washington, D.C. filling out the top six. And the salaries aren't bad.

"A new green economy is just that -- a whole new economy, with job openings at all skill levels, from truck drivers to inventors of new battery chemistry," Winston says.

And someday soon something might just pop up on for you.

Big wind project secures financing near Tehachapi

Terra-Gen Power LLC says it has secured $1.2 billion in financing to build four wind-powered electrical generation projects near Tehachapi.

Officials estimate it will generate about 1,500 jobs.

The combined generating capacity is 570 megawatts, or enough electricity to supply 570,000 homes. The project would bolster the 3,000 megawatt Alta Wind Energy Center, which was started in the 1980s and "where former Governor Jerry Brown jump-started the US wind industry back in the early ’80s with 55% tax credits. Back then, because of those policies, California led the nation in wind and solar," wrote Susan Kraemer on

Terra-Gen officials said in a statement that combined with another project which received financing in March, this would put the New York-based company "well on its way to completing what is anticipated to be the largest wind energy farm in the nation."

John O’Connor, chief financial officer of Terra-Gen, said project financing is a first using a leveraged lease and a bond issuance under U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 144A, which "are not required to be registered with the SEC and may not be resold to individual investors, but may be traded between qualified institutional buyers," according to an article by Miles Livingston and Lei Zhou on

"We are hopeful that these benchmarks will expand the capital base available to fund future growth in the renewables sector,” O'Connor said.

Jim Pagano, CEO of Terra-Gen said the project expands California's renewable energy base and helps achieve energy independence. “The Alta projects I-V will create more than 1,500 domestic manufacturing, construction and operation and maintenance jobs, and inject more than $600 million into the local economy," he said.
Construction is expected to begin immediately, and commercial energy production should start next year.

Power will be delivered to the Los Angeles Basin through Southern California Edison’s Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, which was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in March 2007. Construction on the project is now under way. SCE officials say it is the "first major energy transmission project in California being constructed specifically to access multiple renewable generators in a remote renewable-rich resource area."

Photo: Courtesy Southern California Edison.