California Sets Wind Power Records During High-Wind Event

Wind turbines east of Tehachapi Pass | Photo: Don Barrett/Flickr/Creative Commons License

More wind power than ever has powered the state in the last few days, according to the California Independent System Operator (CaISO), which runs the electrical power grid covering most of the state. On Sunday, wind power production reached an all-time peak of 4,196 megawatts -- nearly twice the output of the shuttered San Onofre nuclear power plant.

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All told Sunday, wind turbines generated 70,560 megawatt-hours of electrical power throughout the day, 13 percent of the state's total electrical power consumption.

That beats a record set Friday, on which day wind power's contribution to the grid topped out at 4,095 megawatts. The previous record of 3,944 megawatts had been set in early March.

There's 5,899 megawatts' worth of wind generating capacity attached to the state's grid, but inefficiencies and downtime will always keep wind energy production below theoretical maximum output.

"With these impressive wind production levels, California is well positioned to meet the 33 percent by 2020 green power goal," said ISO President and CEO Steve Berberich in a press release. "Our control center operators are tracking a steady increase in renewable energy and we are leveraging the latest forecasting technology as well as complementary flexible resources to capture and optimize this carbon-free power supply."

The record establishes California as the second-largest producer of wind energy in the U.S., well behind Texas -- whose more than 10,000 megawatts of wind turbine capacity generated a peak of 9,481 megawatts of power on February 9, according to CaISO.

Ironically, the state's use of wind energy slackened Monday as extremely strong winds buffeted the state, with gusts as high as 97 miles per hour recorded in one Southern California location on Sunday. Many wind turbines are equipped with regulators that shut the turbines down when winds get into the 55 mph range or above, so as to reduce wear on the turbines' moving parts and prevent blades from hitting the towers that hold them. On Monday, wind power production on the CaISO grid topped out at 3,100 megawatts or so, staying in the 2,600-2,800 megawatt range for most of the day. Not that many people in Southern California could use it anyway: high winds had taken down power to about 9,600 Southern California Edison customers by about 3:00 Monday afternoon.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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