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Manufacturer turns California developer -- Early stages of new GE project

Speculation that a leading turbine manufacturer could be re-entering the market as a wind plant developer has been sparked following a recent project announcement by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Ukiah, California. The BLM says it is in discussion with the manufacturer about placing a new 120 MW wind project on public lands.

Speculation that GE Wind Energy could be re-entering the market as a wind plant developer has been sparked following a recent project announcement by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Ukiah, California. The BLM office says it is in discussion with GE Wind about placing a new wind project on public lands. Until now GE has insisted it is a wind turbines maker, not a project developer -- a point it firmly made on its purchase of Enron Wind in April 2002.

Nonetheless, GE has now filed plans to develop a 120 MW project of 81 wind turbines in the coast range of northern California. Dennis Murphy of GE Power Systems confirms that GE Wind is "setting up assets to help develop the site." But he does not know whether the project marks a permanent change in business strategy for the company or whether GE Wind is just capturing a particular opportunity.

The project would go up on Walker Ridge and occupy 8200 acres of recreation area managed by the federal BLM on the border of Lake and Colusa counties. The BLM's Rich Burns says the review of the project is in the preliminary stages, but that his office had also talked with Enron Wind and its predecessor, Zond Corporation, about the site. These latest talks are more serious, he says, with GE Wind beginning to place anemometers along the ridgetop.

Public land for wind

Burns says BLM is receptive to wind projects on public lands. In fact, most wind projects in Palm Springs and Tehachapi are on public lands, he says, and recent US policy supports renewable development on public lands. Late last year, in response to one component of President George Bush's energy policy that calls for an increased federal focus on renewables, BLM released a new Wind Energy Development Policy. It sets the rules on right of way, siting, environmental studies and rental fees to help agency field staff more quickly process wind project applications (Windpower Monthly, December 2002).

Issues at the Walker Ridge site yet to be resolved by an environmental impact statement include the presence of raptors, visual impacts and the mix of hunting and off-road vehicle recreation with the presence of wind turbines, Burns says.

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