How a massive Amazon wind farm promises to change a tiny town in rural America

Source: Jacob Douglas, CNBC, October 12, 2019

Buried in the mountains of southern California lies a field of white. It’s not your typical farm: It produces renewable energy. The Tehachapi Pass is home to one of the largest wind farms in the world.Now a huge tech company is bringing more turbines to the area, and it is going to have an impact on a nearby community.

In April, Amazon announced three new wind farm projects — two overseas, and one in the Tehachapi (teh-HATCH-ah-pee) Mountains, located in southern California. The farms will help contribute to Amazon’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 and 100% renewables by 2030.

The mountain range is a hub for the wind industry, with around 4,731 turbines that produce about 3,200 megawatts of electricity along the mountain range, according to the Center for Land Use Interpretation, with private companies flocking to the area because of the high wind speeds. Farther north is the Altamont Pass wind farm, which helps power another tech giant: Alphabet’s Google.

Located just northeast of the mountain range is the town of Tehachapi. With a population of about 12,000, Tehachapi Mayor Pro-Tem Phil Smith called it a nice little mountain town, and while the power being produced from wind only comes to the town indirectly through the grid, Tehachapi gets something else directly as a result of the big renewable energy investments.

“The good news for us is obviously we have the economic impact,” said Tehachapi economic development coordinator Corey Costelloe.

Outside contractors come in to work on the wind turbines, staying in the town’s hotels and eating at its restaurants, like Kohnen’s Country Bakery, one of the town’s more popular local eateries. Family owned by Colleen and Thomas Kohnen, the bakery has been around since 2004. Colleen says the bakery is growing, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is because of the wind industry. Though she says that she does get customers who come from out of the city to work on the windmills.

“I had one guy come in last week, and I guess he was staying in a hotel during the week or something,” Khonen said. “And his wife and daughter came up to visit him. That just introduces people (to the bakery).”

Stephen Abbott, city renewables accelerator manager at Rocky Mountain Institute, says that small businesses seeing an increase in revenue is part of the initial economic boom that follows a renewable energy farm.

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