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Looking in on Altamont's wind farms ... by car or on a tour.

For a hundred years, ranchers have fed cattle on the windswept hills of Altamont Pass. But now there's a new herd: vast rows of weird-looking wind turbines. Some 3,800 windmills--nearly half the U.S. total--stand like spinning sentries along the pass. Are they a clean answer to our need for electricity, or merely tax shelters and eyesores? To break up a drive, and to see the windmills up close during the windy spring and summer months, explore the Altamont area's side roads off Insterstate 580 or take a brief tour of a wind farm.

In 1981, a state study found Altamont Pass to be among the most promising sites for wind energy development. As the Central Valley heats up, cool air from the Pacific funnels through the pass at speeds up to 80 mph (after 60 mph, most windmills shut down).

In 1984, the wind turbines produced four times more electricity than in 1983, enough to power more than 20,000 houses. Compared with first-generation 1981 models, newest turbines cost half the price per kilowatt produced and generate nearly twice the power.

Eleven developers have wind farms here. They attract investors with 25 percent tax credits from both the state and federal governments. Pacific Gas and Electric Company must by law buy every watt of electricity generated. However, both credits are due to expire soon. Windmill watching by tour or by car

Two wind-farm developers offer free 1/2-hour tours of their facilities by arrangement on weekdays and some weekends. You'll get a ride into the hills for a close look at these huge windmills and an explanation of wind energy technology. Call Altamont Energy Corporation (California Wind Energy) at (800) 541-6677 or Fayette Manufacturing Corporation at (415) 443-2929 at least a week ahead.

Another developer will send you a detailed local map and a brochure telling you how windmills work, wth diagrams of all 11 types seen in the area. Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to U.S. Windpower, Inc., 500 Sansome St., Suite 600, San Francisco 94111.

Most wind farms cluster around Altamont Pass Road. From I-580 or I-205 westbound, exist north at Patterson Pass Road; turn west at Grant Line Road and follow it to Altamont Pass. From I-580 eastbound, exit at Greenville Road; drive under the freeway to Altamont Pass.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:windmill farms stretch at Altamont Pass between Oakland and Stockton
Publication:Sunset
Date:Apr 1, 1985
Words:385
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