By the end of 2021, thousands of San Jose homes will be powered by renewable wind energy — generated by a fleet of turbines 1,000 miles away in New Mexico.
Since its launch in 2019, San Jose Clean Energy, the city’s electricity supplier, has invested in renewable energy such as solar and battery storage but the new 15-year partnership marks its first wind investment. Adding wind power will help provide electricity to homes during the evening, when the sun sets and solar becomes less effective, according to Zachary Struyk, assistant director of SJCE.
The partnership with Pattern Energy, a large renewable energy company based in San Francisco, will shuttle 225 megawatts of power to San Jose generated by 85 to 90 wind turbines in New Mexico. New Mexico will also get a cut of the new supply.
“This investment will power 186,000 homes each year with clean, pollution-free electricity,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo. “I’m proud that as San Jose drives California’s renewable energy future, we will leave a more livable planet to our children.”
The contract will also help the city and customers save money long-term, according to Struyk. The value of the contract has not been disclosed, he added.
SJCE, which was created by the San Jose City Council in 2017 to supply cleaner electricity options to residents, boasts lower prices than PG&E.
But why did San Jose have to invest in wind energy outside the state?
The wind in New Mexico is better suited for generating electricity than the wind in San Jose, according to Cary Kottler, Pattern Energy’s vice president of development in North America.
“The wind in New Mexico blows very strongly and provides energy at a low price for consumers, and the times that it blows complements California’s solar power resource perfectly,” Kottler said.
Shani Kleinhaus, environmental advocate with Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, supports San Jose investing in clean energy, but worried about the potential threats to wildlife.
“We have to move away from using fossil fuels and we have to move to alternative energy,” Kleinhaus said. “We are not opposed to wind energy, but we want to make sure the siting is done correctly.”
Siting refers to the strategic placement of wind turbines. According to the American Wind Energy Association, developers must consider how much wind is available, how much land they have to work with and what the impacts will be on the surrounding environment.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 140,000 to 500,000 birds are killed every year from colliding with wind turbines. Songbirds, hawks, eagles and falcons are the most common victims.
Wind turbines can also disrupt habitats and migration patterns— but this isn’t set in stone. Kleinhaus said careful attention to turbine location and design can help reduce destruction of the environment and preserve wildlife.
The United States Geological Survey found more than 58,000 wind turbines have been built in the United States since 1980. According to The California Wind Energy Association, California’s wind systems alone provide enough energy to power approximately two million households.
CalWEA Reports show using this much clean energy equates to taking roughly 1.7 million cars off the road in California. Wind energy also uses very little water, saving the state more than 3 billion gallons of water each year.
Pattern Energy has entered similar partnerships with other California cities including Los Angeles and Sacramento.
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.