Recently, SERC has been involved in a planning study for the County of Humboldt. Called RePower Humboldt, the purpose of the project is to create a strategic plan for Humboldt County to meet a majority of its energy needs with local renewable resources. The primary conclusion of the study is that it is technically and economically feasible to achieve a very high penetration of local renewable energy sources, but no single resource is capable of reaching that goal on its own. We must pursue multiple resources simultaneously, and the most practical ones are biomass, wind, hydropower, and energy efficiency.
From approximately 2005-2012, Shell Wind was proposing the development of 25 wind turbines on Bear River Ridge, five miles south of the City of Ferndale, just inland from Cape Mendocino. The wind farm would have produced enough renewable electricity to power 22,000 Humboldt County homes, about 10% of our countywide electricity use.
A Bear River Ridge Wind Project would bring several positive developments to Humboldt County:
The Bear River Ridge Wind Project sparked considerable local dialogue. Here we respond to the most common questions and concerns we received about the project. We have also included a set of links to additional resources about the project and wind power in general.
(Click questions to show/hide answers)
Humboldt County has a substantial wind resource, mostly in the Cape Mendocino region. SERC has estimated that as much as 400MW of wind power could technically be developed in the county. (For comparison, the average demand for electricity in the county is 110MW). However, the economic potential for the county (that is, the resource that would be cost-effective to develop) is less, probably between 75-250MW.
The Bear River Ridge Wind Project proposed by Shell would have been 50MW, or 25 turbines at 2MW each. The project would have produced enough renewable energy to power 22,000 homes or 10% of countywide electricity use.
Some key benefits of a wind project in Humboldt are:
Any development project has impacts on the local community and environment. Here are some impacts associated with the Bear River Ridge Wind Project:
Shell Wind stated that the project did not depend on subsidy to be financially viable. Generally, the cost of energy is roughly equivalent between wind and fossil fuels. In Humboldt County, wind power is the same or less costly than producing power from any other resource.
There are two valid ways to look at electricity production from the proposed wind farm and its consumption, physically and in business terms.
Physically - All of the power generated by the Bear River Ridge Wind Project would have been consumed locally in Humboldt County.
Even at full capacity (50MW), the wind farm would never produce more electricity than can be consumed locally (our minimum county load is 70MW), so the power would always get used up locally. It is technically possible to export electricity from our region, but PG&E is the only local entity that has the ability to make exports occur (by ramping up the Humboldt Bay Power Plant). However, in today’s wholesale market, PG&E would lose money if it tried to sell Humboldt Bay natural gas power to the greater California grid, so they don’t.
Business Transactions - Depending on who purchases the electricity from a Bear River Ridge Wind Project, some or none of the power would be resold to Humboldt County residents.
Shell Wind is not a utility, so they would have needed to find someone willing to purchase the power from Bear River Ridge. If PG&E purchased the electricity, then legally every PG&E customer would share equally in the consumption of that power. Humboldt County represents about 1% of PG&E’s customer base, so local residents would legally be consuming about 1% of the power from the Bear River Ridge Wind Project. If Shell Wind sold the power to another entity, then legally the electricity we buy from PG&E would not include the local wind energy.
Regardless of the business status of the power, the presence of the wind farm will make Humboldt County more energy secure.
No. The California Public Utilities Commission sets the rate we pay for electricity. Because the wind farm’s output would be about a tenth of a percent of PG&E’s total electricity procurement, it won’t change the price we pay for power one way or another.
See for yourself! We produced a Google Earth virtual tour of the Bear River Ridge Wind Project.
No. At 500 yards, a turbine is about as loud as standing next to the refrigerator in your kitchen. The nearest community to the project is Ferndale, about 5 miles away. The turbines will not be audible at that distance.
Some of the towers will have red warning beacons for aircraft safety. These beacons will look essentially identical to the red beacons on radio and cell towers (e.g. the towers on the hill above Kneeland or the towers near Fay Slough and Murray Field in Northern Eureka).
Light pollution is not a concern because of the color of the lights. Red light does not scatter nearly as strongly as white or blue light (which is why the sky is blue) and the human eye is much less sensitive to red light than other colors (which is why red flashlights are used for star gazing).
It depends. Wind power definitely decreases consumption of fossil fuels. The energy generated by the Bear River Ridge Wind Project would have displaced natural gas consumption at PG&E’s Humboldt Bay power plant.
However, wind power is intermittent, which means that a single wind farm cannot be relied upon to provide energy at any specific point in time. In contrast, fossil powered electricity is dispatchable, which means that a plant can increase or decrease output at will. We must maintain dispatchable sources of power.
Many sources of renewable energy can be dispatchable, such as hydropower, geothermal and biomass. In addition, energy storage facilities, charged during periods of excess availability, can be used to deliver renewable energy during periods of deficit. So fossil power generation could be replaced entirely by a combination of intermittent and dispatchable renewable sources.
The evidence does not support this claim.
A study published by Hoen et. al. (2011) (PDF; 356K) concluded that there was no statistically significant impact on property values due to wind farms:
“This paper has investigated the potential impacts of wind energy facilities on the sales prices of residential properties that are in proximity to and/or that have a view of those wind facilities. In so doing, three different potential impacts of wind facilities on property values have been identified and analyzed: scenic vista stigma, area stigma, and nuisance stigma. The results are based on the most comprehensive data on and analysis of the subject to date. [No] statistical evidence of the presence of these stigmas was found for the 24 wind facilities and 7,459 residential real estate transactions included in the sample.”
Solar photovoltaic (PV) is a very promising technology that has some important advantages over other renewable energy technologies. In particular, the environmental impact of residential scale PV is relatively low because systems are usually installed on existing buildings, requiring no land-use conversion.
The challenges with PV are the matters of scale and cost. To produce an equivalent amount of annual electricity as the Bear River Ridge Wind Project, every housing unit in Humboldt County (all 61,000) would need to install a 2 kW solar PV array on the roof, and all of those systems would need to be optimally sited and oriented (south-facing, tilted, no shading). In total, those systems would cost 5 times more than the wind farm, over half a billion dollars.
We are emphatic supporters of solar and believe it should be a part of our renewable energy portfolio. But until costs come down much further, it is not the most cost-effective or practical approach to meeting local energy needs with renewables.
Project Specific Resources from SERC:
Other Project Specific Resources: