Owning and operating a wind project, says the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), is cheaper for its customers than buying wind power on the open market. For this reason, the California public utility has been steadily expanding its single wind power plant in Solano County since its first investment in 5 MW of American Kenetech turbines back in 1993. The development's most recent addition was eight Vestas 3 MW machines in mid 2006 to bring total capacity to 39 MW. The plant is due for a 63 MW expansion next year and an additional 100 MW or more is due online by 2010. "Each phase of the project has had a different price tag and I don't know what the blended price would be," says SMUD's Jon Bertolino. "But we have certainly found that owning the project site produces economic advantages for us. We're actually able to own it and operate it cheaper than what we're seeing on the open market." He points out that municipal utility ownership of the land and the assets is somewhat unique. "But we're the land owner, we own the turbines and we have Vestas under contract to operate the facility on our behalf. We also provide the transmission services that take the energy from the project site and upload it to the transmission backbone in California." SMUD was recently honoured for its long track record in wind farm ownership by the US Department of Energy, which granted the utility with its Wind Power Pioneer award. SMUD was among 14 US public utilities nominated for this year's award.