Windpower 98 Tehachapi Tour

By Paul Gipe

The following appeared in an edited version in an 1998 edition of Windpower Monthly

Four busses chocked full of windpower devotees, some 200 in all, left Windpower 98 in Bakersfield for a tour of wind plants in the Tehachapi Pass. AWEA last toured Tehachapi in 1985.

The route crossed the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley past irrigated orange groves, vineyards, fields of carrots, and not a few nodding pump jacks before climbing the long grade up the Tehachapi Mountains.

After a final series of curves along Tehachapi Creek, the freeway opened onto the floor of the Tehachapi Valley and more than 1,000 wind turbines were immediately visible on a series of low ridges. Altogether, there are some 5,000 turbines in service throughout the Tehachapi Pass generating about 1.3 terawatt-hours per year.

The tour included stops at SeaWest’s Mojave site, Oak Creek Energy Systems, and Zond’s new assembly hall.

Our bus drove directly through the Tehachapi Gorge passing the abandoned Airtricity site with its derelict Storm Master and Wind-Matic turbines and the deserted Wind Source site with its defunct Aeroman machines. We also got a freeway-close glimpse of Zond’s wind wall with its 400 Vestas V15 turbines, the former Arbutus site on rugged Pajuela Peak where only the Bonus turbines are still in service, and steep-sided Cameron Ridge topped with FloWind’s few remaining Darrieus turbines before reaching SeaWest, our first stop.

As we approached SeaWest from the desert town of Mojave, the old Micon 108s were spinning merrily, but the Mitsubishis with their higher start-up speed were just coming to life. SeaWest and Fluidyne had done a commendable job of cleaning the Mitsubishis of their infamous oil leaks for the tour’s arrival. Always hospitable, SeaWest’s Jim Watkins and Dean Landon answered questions and kept herd on the child-like curiosity of their visitors. Of all the wind plants in the world, there’s little to compare with standing at SeaWest’s “1018” or control building and gazing out across a sea of 1064 wind turbines as they lap against the shore of Cameron Ridge. This is wind energy at its most intense.

From the rectangular arrays at SeaWest our bus lumbered past fields of Joshua Trees and the yellow blooms of Goldenbush and Coriopsis as we headed to Oak Creek and their recent repowering.

Oak Creek today is not what it once was: the junkyard of the wind industry. Hal Romanowitz and his crew have been busy for the past year clearing debris, removing felled turbines, re-grading roads, and re-seeding. Our bus stopped beneath the new Micon turbines operating at the top of Oak Creek’s site. The Micons overlook the famous escarpment where more than a decade ago turbulence destroyed the Carter 25s that once stood there.

The Oak Creek stop afforded spectacular views of the Mojave Desert, the Garlock Fault (lesser known than the San Andreas, but just as deadly), Cameron Ridge, Mogul Energy’s new Mitsubishi 450 kW machines, and much more. The Micons stand on one of the best viewpoints in the entire Tehachapi Pass. SeaWest’s Mojave site, Tacke’s half-dozen 600 kW machines, Coram’s Aeromans, R. Lynette’s three AWT prototypes, and Zond’s Victory Garden where Zond’s prototype Z750 and two Z40s stood out among the hundreds of Vestas turbines surrounding them, were all clearly visible.

After leaving Oak Creek we climbed over the low col of Oak Creek Pass and CalWind’s old Nordtank’s turbines with their red tips then descended to our final stop: Zond’s assembly hall.

Zond’s Mary McCann was ready for us. Whisked off in small groups by uniformed, mostly young, Zond employees, we toured the single assembly line that’s shipping two turbines per day in two, 10-hour shifts, five and one-half days per week. Unlike AWEA’s now legendary Kenetech tour several years ago, Zond even permitted cameras in the assembly bay. We moved from station to station much like the turbines that were being assembled from parts shipped in from across the United States. The machines we saw were tagged for “Lake Benton,” Zond’s big 100 MW project for Northern States Power that’s currently under construction.

The Z750 is clearly not an AWT, or a Carter (of either stripe). It’s much too beefy to be of the “American” design school. But it’s not a European machine either. The machine incorporates ideas from both worlds. The Z750 is identical with its forerunner, the Z40, except for larger bearing surfaces and a stiffener in the snout of its integrated drive train. The fit and finish of the nacelles moving through Zond’s assembly bay looked every bit as good as those in Denmark or Germany. The Z750’s fiberglass nacelle cover literally shimmered against the dull box-like nacelle of the Vestas’ V47 in Bakersfield’s convention center. If the Z750 variable-speed drive works as touted to reduce loads on the drive train, European manufacturers will face a formidable product pushed by a sales department that makes Kenetech’s aggressive marketing look tame in comparison. Only time — and Minnesota’s fierce winters — will tell whether the Z750 is a dressed-up Southern California version of Kenetech’s KVS33.