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San Gorgonio Pass (33°54'38.89''N, 116°44' 04.57W), one of the nation’s deepest mountain passes, is located in the northwestern region of Coachella Valley, and is home to one of the nation's largest wind farms. It contains more than 4000 separate windmills in a 70-square-mile area and provides enough electricity to power Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley. The San Gorgonio Pass has proven to be a reliable location for wind energy production due to stable wind flows caused by warm desert air mixing with cooler coastal air, producing average wind speeds of 15 to 20 mph. The winds generally are strongest during the summer months when electricity demands are at their highest. The San Gorgonio wind farm’s 4,000 wind turbines have a capacity of 359 MW and an annual generation of about 893 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity as of April 2009. The San Gorgonio wind resource area is one of three primary regions, the others being Tehachapi Pass and Altamont Pass. Together these three areas account for nearly 95 percent of all commercial wind power generation in California, and approximately 11 percent of the world’s wind-generated electricity. In 2004, wind energy in California produced 4,258 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, about 1.5 percent of the state's total electricity. That's more than enough to light a city the size of San Francisco.
Coachella Valley extends from Riverside County to the Salton Sea; the valley is 45 miles long and 15 miles wide. Coachella Valley is part of the Colorado Desert, but irrigation efforts since the start of the 20th century transformed the valley into a productive agricultural area, mainly known for growing dates. San Gorgonio pass is an ideal location for farming wind energy, beacause as hot air rises over the Coachella Valley it forces cooler air through to pass between the San Bernadino and San Jacinto Mountains creating averarage wind speeds of 15-20 miles per hour. The prime wind season occurs here from March to September, coinciding with the peak summer energy demands.
Trends are leaning towards even greater future integration of wind energy into Californian energy markets. The Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) require California to receive 20 percent of its power generation from renewable sources. Because California is already realizing the economic and social benefits from wind energy, the state will likely continue to focus on wind energy in order to meet its RPS. The California Energy Commission has estimated a 15 percent increase in new wind energy development. This could lead to a total capacity of 930 MW from the San Gorgonio area by year 2017.
Wind energy development in the San Gorgonio Pass area was formally studied through the San Gorgonio Wind Resource Study EIR (1982), a joint environmental document prepared for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Riverside County. The document assessed three scenarios for wind energy development in the area and included criteria for the development of wind energy on both a countywide basis and specifically for the San Gorgonio Pass area. Since 1982, and the approval of wind energy development in the San Gorgonio Pass, the numerous wind turbines have become part of the existing landscape and dominate the natural landscape. The existing landscape includes turbines ranging from 80 to 160 feet in height.
Increasingly popular as alternative sources of energy, wind turbine generators are a type of windmill that produces electricity by harnessing the wind. Wind turbine generators are much less harmful to the environment than burning fossil fuels, but they do require average wind speeds of at least 21 km/h (13 mph). The largest of these windmills stands 150 feet tall with blades half the legend of a football field. The compartments at the top containing the generator, hub and gearbox weigh 30,000 to 45,000 pounds. A wind turbine's cost can range upwards to $300,000 and can produce 300 kilowatts. Almost all of the currently installed wind electric generation capacity is in California. The high-tech megatowers are engineered in cooperation with NASA and nursed by federal and state subsidies. This wind farm on the San Gorgonio Mountain Pass in the San Bernadino Mountains contains more than 4000 separate windmills and provides enough electricity to power Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley.
To see a list of the companies operating turbines at San Gorgonio, see the AWEA projects website. The table provides location, MW produced, number of units, turbine manufacturet and other info.