Humboldt State University

Schatz Energy Research Center

Wind Power in Humboldt County

Wind turbines on a grassy hill.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

(Click questions to show/hide answers)

How much wind power potential do we have in Humboldt? How much energy would the Bear River Ridge Wind Project have produce?

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.

What are the benefits of wind power in Humboldt County?

Some key benefits of a wind project in Humboldt are:

  • Renewable energy security - the project would have meant about a 25% increase in the amount of our electricity consumption met by local renewable sources.
  • Local economic development - the project would have led to more than 30 local jobs during the construction phase and an estimated 8 ongoing local jobs for operation and maintenance. In addition, over the lifetime of the project, more than $12 million in local revenues would have flowed into the county in the form of taxes and lease payments to the landowners of the project site.
  • Environmental benefits - the project would have reduced annual greenhouse gas emissions by 59,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, or the equivalent of taking about 10% of Humboldt’s vehicles off the road. The project would have also reduced air pollutants emitted by the PG&E Humboldt Bay Power Plant by reducing generator runtime, increasing local air quality and respiratory health.

What kinds of adverse impacts may there be from developing wind power in Humboldt?

Any development project has impacts on the local community and environment. Here are some impacts associated with the Bear River Ridge Wind Project:

  • Construction disturbances - The construction phase would have lasted about a year with 1-2 months of more intense activity involving the transport of large turbine components. These activities would have involved passage of large trucks through or around local communities, and a general increase in traffic from regular sized trucks (e.g. gravel and cement trucks). Access to roads may have been temporarily limited for portions of the day during the period of most intensive activity.
  • Visual impact - Turbines are tall (about 400ft to the upper tip of the blades), and their presence would alter the viewscape on Bear River Ridge. From most areas of the County, they would appear small and they would not be visible from Ferndale.
  • Environmental impact - Bird studies have estimated that 25 turbines could kill approximately one Marbled Murrelet per year. The Marbled Murrelet is listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Plans for mitigation involved the removal of food sources for corvids near local murrelet nesting habitat, which is expected to increase the murrelet population. Other species of birds and bats would also experience kills from the turbines: estimates of these impacts have not been published. Finally, as with any construction project, environmental impacts such as soil disturbance will occur. Shell would have been required to mitigate any unavoidable impacts.

Is wind energy economically viable without government subsidy?

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.

Will the power be consumed locally or exported from the county?

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.

Will my electricity rates change?

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.

What will the towers look like? From where will they be visible?

See for yourself! We produced a Google Earth virtual tour of the Bear River Ridge Wind Project.

Are turbines loud?

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.

Will there be light pollution at night?

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).

Does wind power reduce the need for fossil powered generating plants?

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.

Do property values decrease around wind farms?

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.”

Can’t we install solar instead of wind?

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:

General Resources: