Chronologically Ordered LOCAL POWER News Index Local Power's Legislative Agenda, March 2001 Large Scale Urban Solar, Wind Projects

Local Power Projects in the Bay Area

by Paul Fenn

Link to SF Solar Initiative PROP H web site Local Power conceived the "San Francisco Solar Power Facility" in conjunction with San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano in the Spring of 2001. Ammiano's proposal will build 50MW of photovoltaic panels on 140-250 acres of commercial, residential and government rooftops throughout the City in coming years. This will provide 10% of the entire city's base load and 5% of the peak load, representing a 1% net greenhouse gas reduction for the whole urban area. It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, by far the largest investment in the history of solar power.

This plan, whose bond authorization measure was passed by the Rules Committee in July 2001, will be six times larger than the world's largest solar power system, and will nearly double the amount of solar power produced in the whole United States. Its passage indicates a major new direction in the City.

With political pressure mounting from health-conscious neighborhoods to phase out natural gas power plants in the city, combined with major grid vulnerability for the city's power supply in an earthquake, we are now seeking local opportunities for wind power generation. Treasure Island is an obvious candidate, and we have petitioned the Treasure Island Power Authority to consider a proposal for wind on the island in its impending Request for Proposals to develop the island.


Mock-Up of Treasure Island Proposal, July, 2001 The proposal comes in conjunction with increasing interest in renewable power development by the City of Berkeley. We have also asked the Berkeley Waterfront Commission to express an interest in our efforts to build a wind turbines on the former foundations of the Berkeley Pier.

These activities are the result of Local Power's organizing of California cities and towns since 1996 to get directly involved in negotiating the power supply to their communities. We drafted legislation to allow cities to do so, and found a sponsor in San Francisco Assemblymember Carole Migden, who serves San Francisco. The Assembly's recent passage of the "Community Choice" bill, Assembly Bill 9, by Assemblywoman Carole Migden, if matched by the Senate in coming months, will authorize city governments to negotiate contracts for bulk power supply and other energy services on behalf of the entire community, much as a public power entity would.

As a result of this legislation (which was requested by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Berkeley City Council, Oakland City Council and Marin County Board of Supervisors by resolution in 1999), many California cities are now looking at developing locally generated renewable energy sources as a positive opportunity in the state's energy crisis. Discussions about following the lead of San Francisco's 50MW Solar Power Facility are ongoing in both Oakland and Marin County, and Sacramento's Municipal Utility District is interested in a partnership with San Francisco for photovoltaic solar panels.

Scale of Wind Projects

Wind power development in urban areas is new to the United States (a school in Iowa is currently having a huge one built on site) but has become common in Europe, where parking lots, shopping malls, shoreline areas and other public areas have been widely developed with wind turbines on monopole structures. Designed for such applications, some of the latest turbine technologies are very quiet (developers can calculate noise levels to the nearest neighbor for suburban projects), and safe in public areas.

Turbine size is another issue. The largest turbines (2 MW) are as high as 20 stories, produce 2MW (powers 2000 homes), and have 200ft rotor diameters. Large turbines offer higher quality, and have longer warranties. Smaller 50KW (50 homes) turbines are 150 feet high and therefore less visible but turn faster and have a larger terrestrial footprint because they are lower to the ground.

Time Line

Once approved, contracted and permitted, wind turbines can be installed incredibly quickly (1 month), so that this offers not merely a sustainable strategy for the energy crisis, but an immediate term solution.

Commercial Viability

The approximate cost of distributed wind is $.08/kwh without any government help, making it extremely competitive with fossil fuels. Meanwhile, significant state and federal subsidies are currently available for wind power development. Available government subsidies include a Production Tax Credit at $.04 cents and the California Energy Commission's buy-down fund (which may count against the federal tax credit) which offers as much as a 50% capital subsidy.

Without these subsidies, wind power is already a competitive source of power generation, and the advantage of urban ("distributed") wind is that it eliminates transmission charges that add to the cost of delivery. The typical payback period on the investment is 7-10 years and the large turbines' certified life expectancy is 20 years.

First Step

The project will involve the selection of available locations and the erection of wind monitoring equipment at the location for a period of several months.

The first expenditure for the project will be for wind monitoring equipment. Wind monitoring of the location will cost between $8,500 and $18,000. This involves the erection of a lightweight 100-160 ft tower at the site.

Copyright 2001 by Local Power.