Altamont Pass wind farm

Coordinates: 37°43′57″N 121°39′9″W / 37.73250°N 121.65250°W / 37.73250; -121.65250
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Altamont Pass wind farm
Turbines near Livermore, California
  • United States
LocationAltamont Pass, Alameda County, California
Coordinates37°43′57″N 121°39′9″W / 37.73250°N 121.65250°W / 37.73250; -121.65250
Commission date1981
Wind farm
Power generation
Units operational4930
Nameplate capacity576 MW
Annual net output1.1 TWh
External links
CommonsRelated media on Commons
Wind turbines dot the landscape as Interstate 580 winds through Altamont Pass
Older wind turbines

The Altamont Pass wind farm is located in the Altamont Pass of the Diablo Range in Northern California. It is one of the earliest wind farms in the United States. The first wind turbines were placed on the Altamont in the early 1980s by Fayette Manufacturing Corporation on land owned by cattle rancher Joe Jess.[1] The wind farm is composed of 4930[2] relatively small wind turbines of various types, making it at one time the largest wind farm in the world in terms of capacity. Altamont Pass is still one of the largest concentration of wind turbines in the world, with a capacity of 576 megawatts (MW), producing about 125 MW on average and 1.1 terawatt-hours (TWh) yearly.[3] They were installed after the 1970s energy crisis in response to favorable tax policies for investors.

In the media[edit]

When the first windfarms appeared in 1981, on the Altamont hills alongside the Altamont Pass portion of the I-580 freeway, the appearance of the modern windmill generated media excitement and public interest. This portion of the freeway was an increasingly used corridor for growing the bedroom communities of Tracy, Lodi and Modesto serving the Bay Area of California (Oakland, San Francisco and Pleasanton). Daily commuters crowded past the otherwise barren cattle ranches for several hours each day.

By 1985, the Altamont Pass was crowded with over 26 different windfarms. The increased visibility from the nearby I-580 freeway, which had once sparked the media and community's interest, was now widely regarded as a growing eyesore. Successful windfarms at the Altamont Pass encouraged the development of further industrial wind areas in southern California. These windfarms, in the Tehachapi Pass, led to wider recognition, after windmills played a role as a prominent backdrop in several feature films of the mid- and late 1980s including the 1985 film based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less than Zero, featuring Andrew McCarthy and Robert Downey, Jr.

Environmental effects[edit]

The small turbines used at Altamont are dangerous to various raptors that hunt California ground squirrels in the area. 1300 raptors are killed annually, among them 70 golden eagles, which are federally protected; in total, 4700 birds are killed annually[4] including the endangered California condor.[5] Overall there has been an 80% decline in golden eagles in Northern California, with no golden eagles nesting near the facility, although it is a prime habitat.[6] Considered largely obsolete, these numerous small turbines are being gradually replaced with much larger and more cost-effective units. The larger units rotate at a much lower angular frequency to the previous turbines, and, being elevated higher, are claimed to be less hazardous to the local wildlife. This claim is supported by a report done for the Bonneville Power Administration.[7]

As of 2010, a settlement has been reached between the Audubon Society, Californians for Renewable Energy and NextEra Energy Resources (who operate some 5,000 turbines in the area). Nearly half of the smaller turbines will be replaced by newer, more bird-friendly models. The project was expected to be complete by 2015 and included $2.5 million for raptor habitat restoration.[8]

Wind farms[edit]

The Altamont Pass Wind Farm[9] is now composed of five constituent wind farms. The Golden Hills Wind Farm is the largest constituent wind farm, as well as being the only one located south of Altamont Pass.

Operational wind farms as of February 2020
Name Capacity
Owner Commissioned Ref
Buena Vista Energy 38 Leeward Asset Management, LLC December 2006 [10]
Diablo Winds 18 GlidePath Power Operations, LLC January 2005 [11]
Golden Hills 86 Golden Hills Wind, LLC December 2015 [12]
Golden Hills North 46 Golden Hills Interconnection Wind, LLC October 2017 [13]
Vasco Winds 78.2 Vasco Winds, LLC December 2011 [14]


In 2015, NextEra – which owns some of the 100kW Kenetech/US Windpower older turbines installed during the 1980s – agreed to remove the machines and replace them with 48 new model wind turbines. A power purchase agreement has been completed to power the Googleplex office complex in nearby Mountain View, California. The process of removing old wind turbines and replacing them with newer machines is called repowering.[15]

A portion of the wind energy center is being dismantled as of 2016. Altamont Winds Inc (AWI)'s 83MW of 100 kW Kenetech turbines are being taken down. These are older models with lattice towers. It has been proposed to replace them with 27 turbines with rated capacity of 2.1MW each (56.7MW total).[16]

The Scott Haggerty wind farm replaced 569 100-kW turbines with 23 modern turbines in 2021.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lodi News-Sentinel – Google News Archive Search".
  2. ^ "California Wind Energy Association: Fast Facts about California Wind Energy". Archived from the original on 2012-02-03. Retrieved 2011-02-23.
  3. ^ "Altamont Pass, California – Encyclopedia of Earth". Archived from the original on 19 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-02.
  4. ^ Bogo, Jennifer (September 14, 2007). "How the Deadliest Wind Farm Can Save the Birds: Green Machines". Popular Mechanics. Archived from the original on June 4, 2009. Retrieved July 14, 2011.
  5. ^ "Wind turbines are killing condors".
  6. ^ Paul Driessen (22 December 2012). "DRIESSEN: Big Wind tax credit exterminates endangered species". Washington Times. Retrieved 29 December 2012. In an 86-square-mile area blanketed by the Altamont wind facility, no eagles have nested for more than 20 years even though the area is prime habitat, Mr. Wiegand says. Overall, there has been an 80 percent population decline for the golden eagle in Southern California, he notes.
  7. ^ "Synthesis and Comparison of Baseline Avian and Bat Use, Raptor Nesting and Mortality Information from Proposed and Existing Wind Developments" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 August 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-07.
  8. ^ Andrew Dalton (December 7, 2010). Altamont Pass to Get Less-Deadly Wind Turbines Archived 2013-04-16 at the Wayback Machine sfist.
  9. ^ "Electricity Data Browser - Altamont Pass Windplant". Retrieved 2022-09-27.
  10. ^ "Electricity Data Browser - Buena Vista Energy LLC". Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  11. ^ "Electricity Data Browser - Diablo Winds LLC". Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  12. ^ "Electricity Data Browser - Golden Hills Wind". Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  13. ^ "Electricity Data Browser - Golden Hills North Wind Energy Center". Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  14. ^ "Electricity Data Browser - Vasco Winds". Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  15. ^ O'Brien, Matt (2016-08-12). "Google buys Altamont wind energy to power Googleplex". The Mercury News. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  16. ^ "Dismantling under way at Altamont Pass". Windpower Monthly. Windpower Monthly. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  17. ^ "Developers replace and repower California wind farm". Windpower Engineering & Development. 27 September 2021. Archived from the original on 28 September 2021.

External links[edit]

Media related to Altamont Pass Wind Farm at Wikimedia Commons