California project seen key to future U.S. wind power
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Am Energy Department official said on Wednesday that infrastructure projects like Southern California Edison's Tehachapi transmission lines are needed if renewable power sources are to reach their potential.
Ambitious renewable energy targets in 29 states can't be met without projects like Tehachapi, said Kevin Kolevar, assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability at the Department of Energy.
SCE's Tehachapi will be the largest transmission project in the United States when it opens, which is planned for 2013. It will bring 4,500 megawatts of wind power to the state power grid.
Kolevar said it has long been understood that renewable power sources, like the wind that blows strong in the Tehachapi area in Southern California, can be remote and require expensive transmission lines to connect to power grids.
He said innovative financing such as SCE's plan to pay the up-front cost for transmission instead of putting that charge on developers of wind generation is likely to be followed around the country. Texas also uses that type of funding, Kolevar said, because most wind farm developers are not big utilities with large lines of credit.
A Standard & Poor's study showed that utilities and states must do a better job of telling the public that renewable power is an expensive proposition.
Of Tehachapi, Kolevar said, "This is a great example of how a utility, a state and a community can work together to derive some new resources,"
California has set an ambitious renewable standard. Each utility is required to have 20 percent of its electricity generated from green sources by 2010 -- and 33 percent by 2020. A possible initiative would ask state voters to increase that total to 50 percent by 2025.
Kolevar said Tehachapi is the furthest along of the big U.S. transmission projects to bring wind power to market.
Wind power generation is about 5 percent of SCE's renewable energy mix, said Stu Hemphill, SCE vice president for renewable and alternative power. About 16 percent of the utility's power is made from renewable sources, most of it from geothermal generation, Hemphill said.
The American Wind Energy Association says that wind power will by 2030 make about 20 percent of the power used in the United States, if transmission lines can be built to turbines in remote areas. By the end of 2007, wind power for the first time accounted for more than 1 percent of overall U.S. electricity production, it said.
Kolevar said the Department of Energy is conducting a study to see if the association's claim is credible.
The key for the Department of Energy, as it is with every utility in the country, said Kolevar, is reliable power delivery to customers.
"It's not helping if we push new sources of generation but jeopardize grid stability," Kolevar said.
SCE is the utility subsidiary of Edison International based in Rosemead, California.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Gary Hill)