By Alex Breitler. Record Staff Writer – June 13, 2010

TRACY – While you weren’t looking, they built a skyscraper in the south
county. The largest windmill in San Joaquin County is about to go online at the Teichert Aggregates sand and gravel plant south of Tracy. The tubular tower rises 260 feet – or about 20 stories – from a concrete pad to the hub, where shining fiberglass blades like airplane wings catch the downdraft from the Altamont Pass.

How it works
The new windmill at Teichert Aggregates is the largest in the county.
Among its features:

  • The tower is 260 feet tall, or about 20 stories. That’s not including the blades
  • It stands atop a concrete pad that is 30 feet deep
  • Close to 120 1-inch-thick bolts anchor the tube tower to the pad
  • Its blades sweep an area the size of a football field, with the tips moving about 120 mph
  • A computer tells the top of the windmill to rotate and the blades to tilt depending on wind direction and condition
  • The windmill can generate 1.5 megawatts of electricity. If it powered a residential area, that’s enough energy to light up 500 homes
  • It cost $4 million
  • It’s not the biggest windmill in California. The wind farm near Rio Vista has 75 windmills each capable of generating 2 megawatts

OK, “skyscraper” may be a stretch. But it sure feels like one amidst flat- as-a-flapjack farmland, and you can see the windmill from miles away. “It was amazing watching these guys construct this,” said Mike Ray, a capital projects manager for the Sacramento-based Teichert. And Friday was a perfect day to celebrate its completion. Gusts up to 40 mph were expected as local dignitaries met at the foot of the windmill for a meet-and-greet.

“We are the Saudi Arabia of wind,” County Supervisor Leroy Ornellas said. “As time goes by who knows how we’ll harness that wind. … This is huge.”

In a few weeks, once it’s plugged in, the windmill will produce 1.5 megawatts of power. That’s up to 20 percent of the energy Teichert needs to crush and wash its rock.

San Francisco-based Foundation Windpower built the $4 million machine. Teichert will buy the energy directly from that company.

It’s not the largest windmill around. Some of the turbines near Rio Vista are bigger. And its energy production is but a flicker compared with the nearby Altamont wind farm. But the Teichert windmill is unique in one way: It stands on its own. It’s not part of a wind farm that feeds energy into the grid. Its sole purpose is to power the Teichert plant.

This means fewer power lines and infrastructure, and cheaper costs for Teichert, the company said. Foundation Windpower said there are similar opportunities at other industrial sites in the Valley, especially on the west side near the Altamont.

Officials say the windmill shouldn’t pose a large threat to birds. It is mounted on a tube, rather than the shorter, old-fashioned lattice windmills on which birds perch near the dangerous blades.

Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295
orabreitler@recordnet.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/blogs.