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Inside a wind farm producing renewable energy for San Diego County

Wind energy produces a rising percentage of California's renewable energy budget, and it's only growing.

BOULEVARD, Calif. — Across the United States, wind energy continues to hit major milestones in the growing renewable energy market. That includes wind energy – responsible for a rising percentage of the energy powering the San Diego County electric grid.

In March, for example, there was a 24-hour stretch where wind energy accounted for the second largest source of energy powering the entire country, only behind natural gas. 

Beyond that, wind turbines floating off our west coast could be in our future, with the Biden-Harris administration announcing the first-ever offshore wind lease sale on the West Coast. 

The announcement came last month in a continuous push toward more renewable, clean energy powering the nation. 

So we decided to visit a wind farm that's helping power the San Diego County electric grid. In Boulevard, about an hour outside of San Diego and just off the 8 freeway, a company called Avangrid Renewables powers 57 wind turbines built in just the last few years. They span several miles, constantly sending clean energy to San Diego’s grid – with the potential to power thousands of homes.

“For me personally I enjoy the challenge of understanding these machines," said James Van Dyke, a Plant Manager at the Tule Wind Farm in Boulevard, part of Avangrid Renewables. "I mean, they're wonderful machines. They're complex in nature, but also simplistic in design so it's really fascinating to understand even the smallest things about them."

As Plant Manager, Van Dyke is responsible for ensuring these turbines continue to work properly, turning a profit for the company but also passing benefits onto the consumers. 

Jose Antonio Miranda is the CEO of Avangrid and says San Diego County’s wind farm continues to exceed expectations.

"The most affordable energy is distributed first, and then least affordable energy is not distributed," says Miranda. "In that respect, wind is so competitive, that it's normally always dispatched. By dispatching the wind, you are lowering the bill of electricity."

Credit: KFMB

Beyond the financial incentives, there’s the environmental aspect. Wind energy is a clean way to ensure power to the electric grid, and already provides about 10 percent of electricity nationwide. 

Here in San Diego, SDGE estimates about 40% of the electricity that powers homes in the county comes from renewable sources like wind and solar. It comes at a pivotal time as many face rising costs on their power bills, hoping for relief. 

“For new generations it’s absolutely something not questioned – that the future is clean energy or no energy at all," added Miranda.

In their office, the output of each wind turbine can be monitored, but they’re largely self reliant. The biggest tasks for the team in-house involves maintenance and repairs. Beyond that, the turbines largely adjust on their own, based on factors like wind speed and direction.

"It's done all automatically," said Van Dyke. "The machine itself will automatically adjust the power and then it'll feed the voltage correctly with the proper frequency onto the grid."

With the increasing likelihood of wind turbines arriving on the ocean, off the U.S. West Coast, Miranda says he's excited to see his company leading the change toward renewable energy. 

"It is accelerating because we have offshore wind coming into the picture. It's going to be a big one and our company is very proud to be pioneering offshore wind in the U.S."

As wind energy is produced at the Tule Wind Farm, it's added to the San Diego County electric grid alongside many other renewable sources like solar and hydroelectric. 

At it's peak, each of the 57 turbines has the capacity to power up to 2,000 homes. These wind turbines are big -- stretching a couple hundred feet in the air, and the more wind we see, the more clean power added to the grid. 

Everyone we talked with from Avangrid Renewables emphasized that while it is a for-profit company, it's also redeeming to know they're helping contributed to cleaner energy keeping lights on around the country, including in San Diego.

The research and permitting process going into each of these farms usually takes four years. But once the farm is up and running, it can power thousands of homes for decades to come. These new sources of energy help in decreasing the carbon footprint that comes along with burning fossil fuels or coal, and could also be strategic in preventing blackouts. 

Currently, wind from most farms feeds directly into the grid. However, with battery storage becoming more powerful and reliable, storing that energy could be soon to come. Companies could then sell that energy back to power companies for a higher profit during peak usage. 

The cost of building the turbines has also shrunk, meaning it is more than likely we'll see more of these turbines in our future.

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