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United States

2,400 population county reaps the benefit of 343MW wind farm

US: The sparsely populated Garfield County in southeast Washington state will soon see the economic impact of its first wind development. The massive 343MW initial phase of the Lower Snake River project is set to bring 149 Siemens 2.3MW turbines online by the second quarter of 2012.

Project owner Puget Sound Energy (PSE), the state's largest utility, expects to create 150 temporary construction jobs along with 25 permanent jobs - significant numbers for a county that totals 2,400 people, including roughly 1,700 who live in Pomeroy, its only incorporated city. The project received the Governor's Smart Community Award for producing green jobs while giving residents and landowners a voice in the project.

"We've worked really closely with the communities and they're very supportive," says PSE spokeswoman Rebekah Anderson. "It's a farming area and so a project like this brings in jobs and it brings in business. They really view it as a boon to the local economy."

Alesia Ruchert, the Southeast Washington Economic Development Association's managing director for Garfield County, says the majority of residents are enthusiastic. "I'm not going to say everyone is in support of the project," Ruchert says. "But, overall, most realize that this is an economic opportunity for Garfield County that we have not seen since the Lower Snake River dams were built in the late 1960s and early '70s."

New jobs are only part of the picture. "We're talking about a domino principle with these folks coming to town," Ruchert says. "They're going to be spending their money here on gas, supplies, groceries, meals and housing."

PSE, the nation's second-leading wind power owner among utilities, will add Lower Snake River to a portfolio of projects that also includes the 157MW Hopkins Ridge project in neighboring Columbia County and the 273MW Wild Horse project in Kittitas County.

When complete, the Lower Snake River project is expected to total 1.25GW. A second phase, planned for Columbia County, is in its early stages and PSE has an option on 110 more Siemens turbines. "The wind farm itself will be located outside of our service area," says PSE's Anderson. "But we're attaching it to transmission lines to send the power to our customers."

As for Siemens, Lower Snake River represents the company's largest-ever US order as it prepares for the December opening of a new turbine assembly facility in Hutchinson, Kansas. Blades for the project will come from its factory in Fort Madison, Iowa.

But Siemens, which is expected to begin delivering equipment in March, is uncertain whether the turbines will come from Kansas, a longtime factory in Denmark or a combination of both. "It hasn't been decided yet," says Siemens spokeswoman Monika Wood. "It's a big order and we're still trying to figure all of that out."

RES Americas, which built Wild Horse and Hopkins Ridge, is also PSE's construction partner on the Lower Snake River project's first phase. Washington is already among the top five wind-producing states in the US, with nearly 2,000MW of online capacity through the end of 2009.

 

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