Inside The $8 Billion California Wind Energy Project

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Our friends over at Fuel Fix have the scoop on a proposed $8 billion California wind energy project that could blow the socks off the regional renewable energy market. The idea would be to use Wyoming as a site for a new wind farm — which would be one of the largest in the US — and schlep the energy over to Los Angeles on new and existing transmission lines.

But, that’s not what caught our eye. The key to the $8 billion California wind energy project, the thing that helps fulfill the Los Angeles vision of a sustainable, secure energy source, would be a massive compressed air energy storage system using salt caverns in Utah.

CAES for $8 billion California wind energy project
Compressed air energy storage for wind power (courtesy of Dresser-Rand).

Wind In The Sails For Compressed Air Energy Storage

Think of party balloon animals and you’re on the right track. Compressed air energy storage is a relatively low-tech way to create a pressurized system that can be released as needed to generate electricity.

Underground, utility scale compressed air systems have been around for a while, but until recently they were used primarily to store energy from fossil-fueled power plants.

Some of the recent developments in compressed air technology include an “isothermal” system based on above-ground containerized modules, designed for use with grid-supplied energy. A report last year by Navigant predicted dramatic growth in the compressed air market as new technology decouples the field from caverns and other geological features.

The $8 billion California wind energy project marries the old world with new clean energy technology. While its compressed air system in Utah would still hinge on a geological feature, it would be designed specifically for storing wind energy, not energy from an individual fossil power plant or a mixed grid.

Four Cooks In The California Wind Energy Broth

The four companies involved in the project are Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy, Magnum Energy, Dresser-Rand and Duke-American Transmission.

Duke-American is an interesting creature. We heard from Duke Chairman Jim Rodgers at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York back in April talking about new business models for utilities to survive in the emerging energy future, and this would be one iteration.

Duke-American is owned partly by Duke Energy, which despite its numerous fossil travails has been plunging forward on renewables. The other part is American Transmission Co., which bills itself as “the nation’s first multi-state transmission-only utility.”

Pathfinder is a Wyoming-based wind company that is already in partnership with Magnum and Dresser-Rand, among others.

Alabama Inspiration For California Wind Energy

In terms of our interest in the project’s energy storage feature, that would be Dresser-Rand.

Dresser-Rand has experience in the geological compressed air field going back to 1991, when it built the still-functional Power South facility in MacIntosh, Alabama. At the time, it was only the second of its kind in the world.


The latest project materials cite operational reliability of 95 percent since 1991, which is pretty impressive considering the age of the facility. We’re guessing that the technology has also improved in the past 23 years, considering that Dresser-Rand is already talking about developing similar systems based under coastal waters.

The Power South facility is hooked up to a coal power plant, but up front in the project materials Dresser-Rand also notes that it is looking forward to considerable growth in compressed air energy storage (CAES) as the wind and solar markets take off.

How The Utah CAES Could Work

Take a look inside the Power South CAES, and that will give you a general idea of how the Utah facility would fit into the California wind energy project.

Basically, it’s a buy low, sell high operation. During off-peak hours when rates are cheaper, the coal power plant keeps humming along, generating excess energy that is used for air compression. The low cost stored energy can then be sold off during the day, when rates are higher.

That setup dovetails neatly with prevailing wind patterns, which tend to rev up at night and tail off during daytime peak hours.

Here’s a bit of detail about Power South from Dresser-Rand (breaks added):

The equipment includes single-stage turbines, standard multi-stage turbines, packaged geared turbine generators and engineered turbine generators, centrifugal and axial compressors, gas turbines, and reciprocating compressors. The train has a centrally located motor/ generator with clutches on both sides. On one side, a low-pressure compressor, intermediate compressor and high-pressure compressor work to store air in a salt dome at pressures up to 1100 psig.

Four stages of compression and three inter-coolers are used to enhance cycle efficiency by minimizing compressor power. When electric power demand peaks during the day, the process is reversed. The compressed air is returned to the surface, heated, and run through high-pressure and low-pressure expanders to power the motor/generator to generate electricity.

Okay, so it’s a little more complicated than we made out at the beginning, but you get the picture.

As for the Utah facility, that would be sited near the town of Delta. It could consist of four vertical storage units carved out of underground salt formations, each about 1/4 mile high (!) and 290 feet in diameter. The energy storage capacity would be equivalent to 60,000 megawatt-hours.

The electricity would be generated by a bank of eight generators. During peak demand the partners anticipate using a “small amount” of natural gas to keep things humming along.


Another interesting thing about this project is that it showcases the maneuvering among some of the biggest names in the energy technology field for the lead position in emerging renewable energy opportunities.

As tipped by Fuel Fix, the global energy tech giant Siemens is hot to acquire Dresser-Rand, ostensibly to get a foothold in the US shale gas and oil market, though we think the company’s strong interest in wind energy is also at play.

Although a shareholder lawsuit could gum up the works, assuming the deal goes through that could make for some awkward family dinners around the $8 billion California wind energy project.

That’s because Siemens rival GE happens to be one among those other Pathfinder partners we mentioned earlier, and competition between the two companies has already been cooking up to a boil over the acquisition of France’s Alstom.

However, don’t expect any dishes to start flying just yet. The California wind energy project is still in the proposal stage, and the four partners don’t expect to have a formal submission on the table until sometime next year.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3149 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

40 thoughts on “Inside The $8 Billion California Wind Energy Project

  • The interesting thing for me here is that two international giants (GE, Siemens) see renewable energy contracts and cos. as a thing worth fighting over. That means renewables have corporate advocates pushing back against Koch Bros. to balance the political scales. Of course it would be nice to have democracy, but you can’t have everything.

    • David Koch, 74. Charles Koch, 78. Rupert Murdoch, 83.
      Time is on our side, just barely.

      • What about little Kochs? Are there any evil spawn?

        • Both Charles and David Koch have chilldren. They don’t rate Wikipedia entries. Since they must be middle-aged, that strongly suggests they are not politically engaged and choose to keep a low profile.

          The Murdoch family by contrast is a tremendous soap opera, with power struggles between Rupert’s children by different wives. But there’s nothing to suggest they share Rupert’s industrial-strength Cringe and resentment, which drives his politics. They are basically ordinary rich Brits, like Cameron or Clegg. They don’t like Ailes, who share’s Rupert’s world-view, and will I guess sack him after Rupert leaves the scene, by death or incapacity.

      • Dip shit! Soros promotes queers, illegals and niggers…what are you as nigger too?

  • someone should tell these bone heads.. ice and snow in Wy exists 8 months of they year!!

      • Been following the progress of Isentropic for some years now.
        Really hope their tech pans out as it would be a game-changer in cheap, location-independent energy storage.

  • Lets see how it shakes out. What happens when daytime peak loads vanish? isn’t that the ducks belly? I suggest the real issue is seasonal. California needs winter generation. Then the question is what the wind regime is in Wyoming? Strongest in winter, a good match. Then there is the wild card. How much more money does wind plus storage get than wind alone?

    Here is a good reference to wind seasonality. Its old, though, because it references the NASA Goodnoe Hills wind installation erected years ago.

      • Thanks, Bob. Nice reference. It underscores what I have been saying. California needs winter renewables. Wyoming is ideal for that. There are places off the coast of N. California that are ideal for offshore wind. The compressed storage can come in handy on the ducks beak, daily variation. Also, solar neatly slots in with SoCal wind complementing its diurnal nature.

        • Here’s a couple screen grabs that show West Coast wind. It howls out there, as any sailor who’s been out in the blue water knows.

          The first is from 9/4/14. The second from a few minutes ago.

          Folks can take a look for themselves here – It’s rare (never) that I’ve checked and seen onshore wind anywhere in the US approach what’s available off our coast.


  • That was hardly a scoop. Bringing Wyoming wind to the West Coast has been under discussion for a few years. Planning for the HVDC transmission line (the Zephyr) began at least as early as 2011.

    • At least for me, it was the first I heard about adding a major storage component.

      • I was talking about the Wyoming wind part.

        CA utilities have a mandate to supply 5% of peak demand from storage by 2020. The Utah CAES project is news. There was information floating around that one of the utilities was considering CAES but I hadn’t heard any specifics. I think PG&E and SMUD are looking at PuHS.

        • Isn’t the storage mandate for 1.3GW? The annual peak is more like 50GW, so thats roughly 2.5%.

  • How does this help Los Angeles and why aren’t we developing offshore wind resources?

    • Offshore is coming. We need floaters for the deeper Pacific.

      Since most of the HVDC line is in place and onshore wind cheap then Wyoming wind likely makes financial sense. Wyoming wind makes sense for SoCal because it (IIRC) starts blowing hard about the time solar starts shutting down for the day.

      Wyoming wind could chop off the duck’s head.

      • Columbia river wind is good in the Spring also.

        • Yes. And hydro is abundant.

          Wind has been curtailed in that area because so much water was flowing and water has ‘right of way’. Probably time to add some more wire to the Pacific Intertie. The route is already secure.

        • I was standing overlooking the Columbia river gorge at about 2000 feet elevation. The wind is constant about 25mph. Here arose my mad idea. Mt hood is 14000 feet and is line of site from another mountain about the same height about 30 miles away. The columbia gorge is in between. The wind at 10,000ft above the gorge is constant and immense. Hang a 30 mile long cable between the peaks and dangle 150 helical wind turbines from it. At 6mw apiece and almost continuous production you can power Seattle. Esthetically they would look like a 737 at 10,000 ft. tiny and silent. glittering in the sun.

          • I’m no engineer, but I highly doubt you’d be able to find any materials capable of supporting such a thing. The cables alone would certainly weigh more than their tensile strength could support, even before adding in the turbines and the wind load. It’s a cool idea, but I’m sure it’s physically impossible.

      • What’s the “potential over-generation” mean and why is it on the lowest part of the curve?

  • “While its compressed air system in Utah would still hinge on a
    geological feature, it would be designed specifically for storing wind
    energy, not energy from an individual fossil power plant or a mixed

    I think it would be fairly agnostic as the the source of the electricity.

    • thanks

  • So if Calf is going to use Wyoming wind farms, then why not use Geothermal plants from around YellowStone which is in the North West corner of Wyoming.

    • Agreed. I think this is a Cal storage mandate thing that makes it attractive.

    • I suspect Yellowstone is offlimits, because it is a national park (IIRC correctly the worlds first). We already have certain conservatives clammoring to open up the parks for oil and gas extraction. In any case I think that one is a nogo. [I don’t like it, but there are other battles to be fought.]

      • I didn’t mean in the park. Don’t want it there. But look at the data on that baby it is one big volcano, and the hot hot rocks go a long way. But I agree with Bob that without a price on carbon, we will likely not see a big growth in geothermal for a long while. But I think we need to go to the carbon tax, and remove ff subsidies and see where we go.

    • Winfried Hoffmann, who accurately predicted the rapid price drop for solar panels based on production volume and learning curve has recently stated that he sees the same forces dropping the price of storage to $0.05/kWh by 2030.–stored-electricity-at-005-kwh_100016581/#axzz3ESj0OCbg

      If that holds it’s going to really limit market shares for technologies that can’t get their costs down close to five cents.

      Onshore wind in good sites is now 3.7 cents in the US and should go to 3 cents, perhaps lower. Solar should get as cheap. A mix of 3c wind + 3c solar + 8c stored wind/solar lowers the price threshold.

      Perhaps geothermal could gain a share as dispatchable generation. But geothermal has an overnight cost three times than of CCNG. As long as there’s no price on carbon it’s not clear that geothermal could win out over NG. And I expect we’ll have all the paid off NG generation we need so the overnight cost of CCNG won’t even come into play.

  • Thanks as always for another lively conversation (you all should be reading Fuel Fix, btw). You may have noticed that the proposal anticipates having to supplement the release of compressed air energy with natural gas to fulfill peak demand (at least that’s the way I read it), anybody have any thoughts on that?

    • I’m willing to get to ‘perfect’ via successive approximations.

      If the math is good for using NG to make CAES work until we get something better, then why not? It could turn out to be a multiplier for NG. Use less NG to get the same GWh of dispatchable electricity. That would work for me.

    • What is Fuel Fix?

  • I did a few calculations regarding the planned compressed gas electricity storage site ten-miles north of Delta, UT. If the planned hollowed caverns were cylindrical in shape the total volume of salt removed would be 343,471,128 cubic feet. I doubt there would be a large market for all of it. The amount of fresh water necessary to dissolve that would be much greater. It is in a desert so availability might be a problem. In the article it suggested the electrical power, to compressed air, to electrical power conversion would be efficient. I’m sure there would be some losses in the conversion process in addition to the two legs of the long-distance high-voltage power transmission that may involve AC/DC converter stations. I wonder how much fossil fuels would be consumed in the creation of such a storage, conversion and transmission system. I did notice that a large coal fired power plant is presently located at the site.

    Before construction begins it would be wise to do a study on the carbon footprint of the development and see if the existing coal-fired power plant at the salt dome location is expected to play a roll in this project.

    Renewable Energy Plan Hinges on Huge Utah Caverns

    • With California abandoning coal it’s likely that the transmission lines of the coal plant would be repurposed for the CAES site. They likely already tie into the Intermountain Intertie.

      Wiki says –

      “Intermountain Power Plant is a large coal-fired power plant at Delta, Utah, USA. It has an installed capacity of 1,900 MW, is owned by the Intermountain Power Agency, and is operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.


      The plant is scheduled to be converted to natural gas by 2025 at a cost of $500 million.”

      And some more on the IPP –

      “Pushed by the science and politics of climate change, Utah’s Intermountain Power Project will likely hitch its future to natural gas instead of coal.

      For three decades, the plant has had a huge appetite for coal. It comes in by rail — 100 rail-cars a day — 100 tons of coal per carload. The carbon-rich fuel fires boilers that drive turbines generating 1,800 megawatts of electricity.

      Last year alone IPP burned 5 million tons of coal.

      But coal may be on its way out. IPP’s participants are on the verge of approving a gigantic billion-dollar makeover involving new power units fueled by natural gas instead of coal.


      Ironically, the long-range and very expensive decision is being driven by climate change issues in California rather than by the 23 Utah towns and cities that actually own IPP.

      Ever since the plant first fired-up in the mid-1980s, nearly all the electricity from IPP has been sent to Los Angeles and five other cities in California, a state where climate change is taken seriously and where state regulations are pushing back against coal.

      “The six California utilities, who have purchased more than 99 percent of the power over the life of this project, are prohibited from continuing to take coal power after the current purchase agreements expire in 2027,” Ward explained.


      A 300 megawatt solar energy farm is in the works less than a mile from IPP.”

      Kind of sounds like they’re aiming at a very large 24/365 somewhat-clean power generating site. Solar, CAES and NG.

      • thank for all the info. I did not know any of this.

    • world production of salt is about 210million tones a year. 343571128 cubic feet works out to about 21milion tones. They would not have any big problems finding a buyer.

      Also the water doesn’t have to fresh water. Salt water will work as long as it is not saturated with salt. waist water from a sewage treatment plant would work. Maybe even water from the great salt lake in utah (about 100miles away.

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