On Monday, natural gas market prices jumped 10 percent. Tuesday's banner headline bruited Exxon's record $36 billion in profits. Meanwhile, California is quietly in the process of developing the largest wind energy project in the U.S., perhaps in the world. The links between these stories are fascinating. The Tehachapi project will capture energy in the windy mountains east of Bakersfield, transform it into electricity, and deliver it to the California grid. Peak generation, when the wind is blowing hard, is estimated at 4,500 MW, more than double the capacity of a nuclear plant such as Diablo Canyon or San Onofre. No, the wind doesn't blow all the time, but the annual energy output from Tehachapi is estimated to be only somewhat less than Diablo's. The Tehachapi project is a massive undertaking that will attract an estimated $8 billion of private capital. It will supply about 5 percent of California's electricity and reduce demand for natural gas by 100 billion cubic feet per year. It's a very big deal. I have been an advocate for harnessing renewable energy resources such as Tehachapi's for more years than I care to count. My colleagues and I have argued that wind, solar, and geothermal resources provide nonpolluting energy that reduces global warming. We point out that California is well endowed with these indigenous resources, which avoid the creation of more radioactive waste and the importation of liquefied natural gas from foreign suppliers. Renewable technology creates more jobs than conventional electricity generation. But alas, for the last 15 years, progress has been discouragingly slow. Despite supportive state laws and policies, an enthusiastic public, and continued advocacy by my colleagues, the share of California's electricity supply generated by renewables has stagnated, while coal- and gas-fired power has increased. Happily, this will change as the Tehachapi project comes on line in the next few years. It would be gratifying to be able to believe that this change is occurring because of our brilliant work. But I must humbly admit that the reason is much more mundane. The simple fact is that wind energy is now cheaper than electricity from natural gas - which supplies more than 40 percent of California's power. The Tehachapi project will lower electric rates unless future gas prices collapse, which many analysts believe is unlikely. The Tehachapi wind energy project is being built not because it is clean and green, but because it is cheap. The cost of energy today is the connection between Tehachapi and the obscene profits reported by Exxon. (Did anyone think that the money being made from $60 crude oil was going to charity?) The price of energy from natural gas, which competes with wind energy, is now five times higher than it was five years ago. In the last two years the gas price has been pulled higher by the skyrocketing price of oil. Generating electricity from natural gas today costs about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour even from efficient plants. Wind energy from Tehachapi is expected to cost less than 8 cents\/kWh. It's no surprise that the wind power business is booming nationwide. For the last two years, I have been helping to facilitate the Tehachapi Collaborative Study Group established by the California Public Utilities Commission. Since last October, this work has been supported by a contract with the California Energy Commission. Last year's report from the study group recommended several transmission projects that will enable the first expansion of Tehachapi generation to reach consumers. These initial projects, to be built by Southern California Edison, have been endorsed by the CPUC. They are now wending their way through the approval process. Wind developers are lining up in the queue at the California Independent System Operator. They are already proposing enough projects to capture one-third of the estimated total Tehachapi region's potential. The study group is now debating what the second transmission link for Tehachapi should be. We hope to be able to provide a recommendation in the next few months, but there are still thorny issues to be resolved. In addition to technical questions like line capacity and power flows, relative costs are being considered. Which utility will build the next lines? How will their costs be recovered? What are the siting issues? The Tehachapi wind energy project has enthusiastic support from state government at all levels, including the CPUC and the Energy Commission. Development will not proceed as quickly as I would like, of course, but it will proceed. The exciting story of the Tehachapi project is an intriguing one, but much too long for a single column like this. So stay tuned for future installments. - Dr. Rich Ferguson, Research Director, CEERT, firstname.lastname@example.org.