Unexpected problems

But just when prospects seemed to be brightening for Zilkha and other wind power generators, the energy crisis dealt an unexpected whammy: Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison stopped paying them for the power they sold onto the grid. That prompted wind power generators and other alternative energy producers to withdraw their power briefly from the grid, which was the chief cause of the two days of rolling blackouts that the state experienced in March.

Both utilities agreed to pay alternative power producers for power generated from then on, but not necessarily for power that had already been supplied onto the grid.

Zilkha said his company is owed about $562,000 from PG & E.; But with PG & E; in bankruptcy, Zilkha Renewable Energy joins a long list of creditors, and experts say it could be months before Zilkha receives even a portion of the money it is owed.

And there are other problems in California as well. The state has three prime wind power locales the Altamont Pass, the Tehachapi Pass in the northwest corner of the Mojave Desert and the San Gorgonio Pass on the way out to Palm Springs. But windmills already take up much of the land in those passes, according to Suzanne Korosec, manager of new renewable resources for the California Energy Commission.

While there are other wind-prone areas, such as the slopes of the Sierra Nevada, they are hard to get to and, more importantly, are not close to any transmission wires, she said.

"There simply isn't that much prime land left," Korosec said.

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