United States

United States

US investment & Development Guide - Western States

UNITED STATES: The major growth in wind development in the Western US has shifted northward in recent years from California to the Pacific Northwest.

 Although California, at almost 2.8GW, still ranks third among all US states, Oregon and Washington both joined the 2GW club this year due in large part to the windy Columbia River Gorge that separates the two states — both of which offer significant incentives and maintain busy ocean ports that cater to wind components.

New Mexico ranks a distant fourth with just short of 600MW but no other state in the region has yet reached 150MW. The leading state in the region in terms of pipeline is Oregon, with over 3GW of developments planned. The three other leading states in the region —California, Washington and Nevada — all have healthy development pipelines around 2GW, and Idaho has planned developments of more than 1.5GW. Only Hawaii of the region’s other states surpasses 500MW of projected pipeline.

California’s Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative, an effort to identify regions that can host wind projects by 2020, is in its early stages. Washington and Oregon, both planning regional transmission expansion, already ship a significant amount of their wind power to California, and sparsely populated New Mexico is seeking to build export lines to Nevada and Colorado.  An Idaho bill passed last summer guarantees that qualifying transmission providers can recover costs through electricity rates — and some long-distance 500kV lines are proposed.

The Western states are also important because of their ports, some of which are the country’s busiest for wind imports, linking with key overseas markets such as China.

 

Way is clear for colossal projects

The windy Pacific Northwest’s wide-open spaces will see some truly massive mega-projects completed within the next few years. Oregon’s Gilliam and Morrow counties are set to host one of the world’s largest developments — Caithness Energy’s Shepherds Flat, a 909MW project that, by 2012, will feature some of the first 2.5MW GE turbines in North America. Another massive Oregon project, Horizon Energy’s 300MW Antelope Ridge, is planned for Union County next year, while BP Alternative Energy has been given consent for its 400MW Golden Hills project in Sherman County.

In Washington, the final 100MW phase of Cannon Power Group’s Windy Point/Windy Flats project in Klickitat County is expected to bring that development’s total to 500MW by 2012.  Meanwhile, construction on the 343MW first phase of Puget Sound Energy’s Lower Snake River is underway and due for completion in 2012. New Mexico could also see a pair of huge projects as soon as next year — Caithness Energy is developing the 500MW Mescalero Ridge project near Roswell, while DKRW Wind and Karbon Zero are planning the 300MW first phase of G3 Wind in Torrance and Lincoln counties.

In California, the first 150MW phase of developer Terra-Gen’s Alta Wind Energy Center got underway earlier this year, with a further 570MW to be added and longer-term plans to build the project out to around 3GW.

 

Limited role for manufacturing

The Western US is home to very little in the way of supply chain manufacturing for two main reasons: equipment makers tend to prefer middle America’s access to nearby wind corridors and transportation lanes, while several busy West Coast ports are capable of bringing the gamut of components from around the world to California, Oregon and Washington, where most of the wind power activity occurs. While major turbine manufacturer Clipper is based in southern California, its nacelle factory is in Iowa. Similarly, blade-maker TPI Composites is based in Arizona but maintains manufacturing facilities in Iowa, Mexico and China. Thus, the region’s supply chain is reduced mainly to a smattering of bearing, gearbox and other subcomponent manufacturers, along with a handful of metal and composite fabricators primarily concentrated near major coastal cities in Washington and Oregon.

 

Veteran research lab gets wind brief

Sandia National Laboratories, with primary campuses in New Mexico and California, has a history that traces back to the Manhattan Project and World War II. Although its primary focus is non-nuclear components for nuclear weapons, the laboratory’s mission also includes renewable energy with an emphasis on wind turbine blade design, testing and system reliability through partnerships with universities and industry.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, located on the grounds of the University of California-Berkeley, is part of the US Department of Energy and produces an ongoing series of case studies that analyse the innovative practices of state clean-energy funds in support of renewable energy – often concentrating on wind power.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), based in Colorado, established a test site in 2008 at the 30MW Kaheawa wind farm on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The goal of the facility is to increase understanding of how to manage variable output by monitoring Hawaii’s small, closed grid.

 

Four ports make US top ten list

The US West Coast is home to some of the world’s best and busiest facilities for importing wind power components. Two Washington ports, Vancouver and Longview, ranked first and third nationally in 2009 for wind-related import tonnage. Vancouver, across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon, established itself as a go-to port for wind equipment in 2006 by purchasing what was then the largest crane in North America. Longview recently invested in its own mega-crane and a pair of heavy-duty forklifts, while expanding its lay-down yard in an effort to enhance its wind-related capabilities.

Also ranking highly was the Columbia Snake River port system, which straddles the Oregon-Washington border and moves wind components into the renowned Columbia River Gorge and beyond. Southern California’s Port of San Diego also featured in the top ten US wind-equipment importers.

A handful of other viable West Coast ports failed to crack the top ten, although California’s Stockton and Long Beach Ports are significant players. Choice of port often comes down to cost, but can also depend on other considerations, such as exclusive contracts with manufacturers.

With an excess of wind and not many people to use the power generated, some of the big square states that make up the region have started selling the electricity they produce to more populous, less windy states.

The most populous state in the region, and the one with largest installed wind power capacity is Colorado. Denver, the state capital and the only city of its size for more than 500 miles in any direction, has long been the regional hub for all sorts of industry and transportation, not least the energy-related fields of oil and mining — and the wind power industry is no different. The Mile High City with its sprawling metropolitan area is home to a number of federal agencies concerned with wind power, and through the state’s higher education system, wind energy research is a high priority. The metropolitan area is home to major turbine manufacturing facilities, while a few hours south lies the world’s largest turbine tower manufacturing plant.

Colorado is looking to more than double its installed wind capacity in the coming years, with 1.4GW of projects in the pipeline. The other three states in the Rocky Mountain Empire have yet to harness fully their vast wind energy reserves, but plans are afoot in these areas to do just that.

With a 3.3GW pipeline, Wyoming has big plans for wind expansion and export, as has Montana, with some 1.4GW of wind projects planned or under development. Montana has plans to establish itself as a supply chain centre, having just welcomed a turbine manufacturing plant of its own.

 

Region poised to go large

In terms of installed capacity, Colorado is the regional leader, but by the end of 2011 each state in the region is set to become home to a number of the country’s largest wind farms. Wyoming’s 3.3GW pipeline is dominated by the state’s largest upcoming scheme, the 2GW Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind energy project. So far only the land has been purchased; developer and owner the Power Company of Wyoming is addressing conservation concerns raised by the scheme and hopes to begin construction in 2012.

Other large projects in the state include Duke Energy’s 200MW Top of the World plant in Converse County and Horizon Wind Energy’s  300MW Simpson Ridge.

Pattern Energy’s 300MW Pole Canyon plant in Huerfano County is due to go live in 2013. Further down the line the potentially massive Cheyenne Ridge Wind Project will start coming online in 2011. If the project is completed to its upper potential it could provide up to 600MW of electricity, enough to power 180,000 Colorado homes. A further two 250MW projects are planned in the state – BP’s Cedar Creek II in northern Colorado and Cedar Point 80 miles east of Denver, being developed by Renewable Energy Systems Americas.

In Utah, Milford Wind plant, now under construction, is to provide 203MW from 97 turbines and is due online this year. In Montana a number of other large schemes are in the pipeline, including Iberdrola’s 309MW Rim Rock facility and Horizon’s 300MW two-phase Martinsdale project, the 243MW second phase of which is in the permitting process.

 

Home to world’s biggest tower factory

Metropolitan Colorado is the hub for turbine production in the region and in terms of supply chain in the Mountain States, turbine manufacture Vestas is the big player. Despite its North American headquarters being in Portland, Oregon, the Danish firm operates three plants in Colorado, with a fourth due to open in 2011. The plants are a blades factory in Windsor, a nacelle assembly factory in Brighton, and a tower manufacturing facility — the world’s largest — in Pueblo.

The company has recently announced plans to hire more than 1000 new workers across its three plants in response to a surge in orders. Firms from metropolitan Denver and its surroundings wider manufacturing base, such as the once-mighty Gates Corporation, also provide raw materials and specialist parts for turbines such as hydraulics and tower platforms and doors.

Further afield, the mining town of Butte, Montana is home to turbine manufacturer Führlander AG’s North American manufacturing base. The plant employs 150 people and builds machine housings for the company’s FL 2500 turbine. The German firm chose Butte for its available industrial workforce, proximity to Canada and good transport links to other US states.

 

Haven for wind research

Colorado is home to many federal agencies covering all aspects of the national economy and, in terms of government wind research, it is again the big hitter in the Mountain states. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory  (NREL), the federal government’s flagship renewable energy research institution,  and its National Wind Technology Center (NWTC)  are based in metropolitan Denver. Roughly a quarter of the NREL’s $150 million budget in 2009 went on its work in wind power and the two bodies have proved to be huge draws to turbine manufacturers and their research arms looking for a location.

With its headquarters in Boulder, 30 miles north-west of Denver, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is the federal government’s main weather and climate research facility. The NCAR and the other federal research institutions collaborate with the state’s universities to form the Center for Research and Education in Wind, with a primary focus on turbine development.

From the private sector, Siemens’ North American wind research and development arm is also based in Boulder. The company cited proximity to the NREL and the NWTC as reasons for their choice. The University of Wyoming’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences has been researching wind energy for more than a decade. It focuses on blade aerodynamics and wind flows, as well as training graduates to provide the state with a pool of skilled wind power workers. It is planning a dedicated wind research building for its campus in Laramie, Wyoming.

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