Blowing away the competition in California

Shutterstock / Tim MessickBlowing away the competition in California

When winds were at their strongest in California this month, wind turbines were providing the state with nearly twice as much electricity as nuclear reactors.

The Golden State saw a surge in new wind farms last year, taking its wind power capacity to 5,544 megawatts. That put it second in the nation behind Texas, which has more than 12,000 MW of installed wind capacity.

From the Los Angeles Times:

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California also ranks second in the U.S. in the amount of employment associated with the wind industry, with more than 7,000 jobs, the [American Wind Energy Association] said.

Nationally, wind energy production grew 28% in the U.S. last year in what AWEA describes as the industry’s best year to date.

“We had an incredibly productive year in 2012,” said Rob Gramlich, interim chief executive of AWEA. “It really showed what this industry can do and the impact we can have with a continued national commitment to renewable energy.”

The wind isn’t blowing everywhere all the time, so actual electricity production from wind turbines is never as high as total capacity. But storms earlier this month pushed wind power generation in California above 4,000 MW. From Greentech Media:

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Winds that reached over 90 miles per hour on mountain ridges blew down through the wind farms in California’s Altamont, San Gorgonio, and Tehachapi Passes and across the state’s wind installations, raising their outputs to a record-shattering 4,196 megawatts on [the evening of April 7], according the California Independent System Operator …

Peak wind output came at 6:44 PM. Total system generation was 23,923 megawatts at the time, making wind 17.5 percent of the state’s electricity supply.

The total system peak output was 27,426 megawatts at 4:07 p.m. that afternoon. In the hour before that, with the total system producing 23,145 megawatts, California got 6,677 megawatts of its electricity, or 28.8 percent, from renewables.

By comparison, the state has two nuclear power plants. Diablo Canyon’s twin reactors are capable of producing up to 2,200 MW of power. San Onofre hasn’t generated any electricity since January 2012, when radiation leaked into the ocean from damaged tubes, although regulators are considering allowing operations to resume soon at reduced capacity.