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Turbines Powering Up Activity At Port’s Tenth Avenue Terminal

A national surge in erecting wind turbines is helping to grow a niche for San Diego’s Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal.

Earlier this month, another shipment of nacelles and turbine towers were unloaded at the terminal, located just south of the San Diego Convention Center, from the ship Bright Stream. They were transferred to customized trucks and trailers that hauled the equipment to points north and east.

“We’re becoming a major distribution point for this type of equipment,” said Ron Popham, senior director for the port’s maritime division. “These are high-tech pieces that are worth millions of dollars each.”

The shipments began last year after Japanese cargo carrier Eastern Car Liner of Tokyo decided unloading the equipment in San Diego would work better for its client, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

“We did a trial shipment of the blades for a carrier two years ago, and it turned out well,” said Joel Valenzuela, the port’s manager of maritime development. “They liked San Diego because of the spare room that we have at our facility, but also because of the proximity to their final destinations.”

The major providers of the turbine equipment are General Electric Co. and Mitsubishi, which are shipping the equipment here every two weeks.

“As the volume grows, the key is to keep turning it over and truck it out fairly quickly,” Valenzuela said.

The latest project where the equipment is headed is in Colorado, but wind turbines have been trucked to sites in other parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and even as far away as Ohio.

Things are going so well with Mitsubishi shipments that the port district recently began negotiating to extend the contract through 2015, adding five years, said Valenzuela.

The port’s maritime business has been rising in recent years, especially with increased imports of autos through its National City terminal operated by Pasha Inc.

But the niche products like windmill parts are helping boost revenues collected from dockage and wharf fees.

Maritime revenue increased 28 percent last year to $37 million. This year, Popham expects that figure to grow by a third to $45 million.

The growth has resulted in more jobs at the terminals.

“About three-and-a-half years ago, we had 100 longshoremen here,” Popham said. “This year, we have about 400.”

The jobs pay an average of $100,000, not including health care and other benefits, which would increase that figure considerably, he said.

The windmill business didn’t just fall into the port’s lap.

Before closing the deal, Valenzuela said it took three years of discussions to convince the parties to use their terminal.

“The shipping industry is very traditional, so it takes awhile to change trade routes and consider new ways of moving cargo,” he said.

The three major components of the windmills are the towers; the blades, or propellers, which can be as much as 150 feet long; and the nacelles, or hubs, that attach to the blades.

Popham said the cargo is especially delicate and requires careful handling. A completed wind turbine system can cost $3 million or more, he said.

An example of the turbines can be viewed at the Campo Indian Reservation, just off Interstate 8.

Called the Kumeyaay Wind Project, the site features 25 wind turbines that generate up to 168,000 megawatt hours of power. A megawatt can power 650 homes.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. agreed to buy 50 megawatts from the turbines to feed its power grid. That is sufficient to power 30,000 homes a year, said SDG & E; spokeswoman Jennifer Briscoe.

The Kumeyaay project, launched in late 2005, contributes to SDG & E;’s efforts to use renewable energy sources for generating power. Sacramento mandates that 20 percent of the electricity generated by power companies must come from renewable sources by 2010, Briscoe said.

The utility is also pursuing alternate power from other sources including solar, geothermal, water and biogases, she said.

The project was built and managed by Babcock & Brown, an Australian firm, along with partners GE Energy Financial Services. The Campo Indian tribe leases the land.

Valenzuela said Mitsubishi declined to disclose the specific names of its customers except to say they are electric utility companies or wind farm developers.

He said General Electric ship arrivals are sporadic, but Mitsubishi shipments arrive every two weeks.

Given the trend towards more states mandating using renewable energy sources, expect more turbines to be coming through here, Popham said.

“A lot of states are passing laws that require energy companies to generate a certain percentage of their power using alternative energy sources so we should benefit from that.”

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