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Bright future up north

The Northwest of the United States remains a highly promising area for wind energy. Several recent developments indicate that utilities and public opinion in the region are behind the technology. Despite some concerns over the impact of wind plant on bird habitats, experts expect as much as 500-700 MW in the ground or under active development by the end of the century in the five states concerned.

There are already four major projects contracted with utilities or in the process of being signed, leading to some 250 MW of nameplate capacity so far this decade. In the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, about 15 utilities are now actively involved in wind power development.

Recently, the region's Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) signed letters of agreement for proposed wind projects in Washington state and Wyoming, to produce power by 1996. Once environmental reviews are completed, BPA will purchase 25 MW of power from a $29 million FloWind project in Klickitat County -- using 91 Advanced Wind Turbines AWT-26 turbines -- and 25 MW of power from a 70.5 MW, $65 million project being developed by Kenetech with Pacific Power, owned by PacifiCorp, in Carbon County, Wyoming. Construction of the project starts in 1995.

"It is my hope that the advancement of these two wind projects will signal a new and vigorous effort by BPA and the region to explore, develop and utilise renewable energy for the future benefit of the region," says the region's well-known and pro-wind senator, Mark Hatfield.

Other projects in the region include a 50 MW wind plant on Columbia Hills, proposed using Kenetech 33M-VS turbines in Klickitat County, to be in the ground by 1996. It involves Portland General Electric Co (PGE), Puget Sound Power & Light and PacifiCorp. Contracts were signed for the project, which will be owned by the three utilities but built by Kenetech, in February. Construction will start in 1995. A 100 MW project in Umatilla Co in eastern Oregon is also short-listed for further consideration by PGE. It, too, uses Model 33M-VS units. In mid-April, the wind proposal was rumoured to be on the final list at PGE, although no formal announcement had been made. And Kenetech announced in January that it may install 500 MW of wind on public land in Wyoming within 10-12 years (Windpower Monthly, February 1994).

"The wind power projects proposed by these companies are an important step in developing renewable resources that will serve Oregon citizens," says Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts of the PacifiCorp, PGE and Puget Power efforts. "Renewable resources are good for our Northwest environment because they can be replenished after being used to generate power. I believe that is the type of energy preferred by Oregonians." In addition to the major announcements, several smaller projects are planned:

¥ A 25 MW wind farm in Oregon, proposed by Zond Systems of southern California, was approved by Wasco County in late March. Approval for the project, which may number 50 turbines, is subject to a one-year wildlife study, primarily because of peregrine falcons near the site. A performance bond will have to be submitted and any injured or dead birds taken care of by Zond once the project is operating. The colour of the turbines will also be determined by the outcome of the wildlife study. County approval was optional for Zond, but it chose to seek it to prepare the ground for taking the project to the state Energy Facilities Siting Council. Although there is no firm buyer of the project's output, county approval is a sign that wind opportunities are continuing to open up in the Northwest.

¥ In a move symbolising the arrival of wind in the Northwest, a Kenetech 33M-VS was shipped into downtown Portland on Earth Day on April 20. It was unveiled at 2 World Trade Plaza and was at the Salmon Fountain two days later. "The efficiency of this turbine has made wind competitive with other resources," said Kenetech chief executive officer Gerald Alderson.

¥ Montana Power Co (MPC), Montana State University, WindMaster USA and the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation are studying the winds near Norris in Montana, confirms William Chapman of WindMaster. MPC is applying to the Electric Power Research Institute for financial support to build a wind plant, which would include at least 20 turbines of 300 kW each. It has also budgeted $80,000 for the next year for the programme. An information meeting was held in Ennis in April. However, since MPC did not choose wind when it issued its RFP, some observers are sceptical about the plan.

¥ A decision is expected in late May in Wyoming on six wind project proposals received by the state, ranging from plans for a single huge turbine to 25 or 30 turbines, says energy programme administrator Dale Hoffman. As much as $2 million is available. The most costly proposal was received from Kenetech. Others were submitted by FloWind, Wyoming Power Partners, Four Winds Energy, and Medicine Bow Energy. The Colorado School of Mines is proposing a wind installation backed by a hydrogen generator.

¥ The Montana Public Service Commission is now investigating renewables, notes wind expert Don Bain of the Oregon Dept of Energy. The docket was opened in March. In addition, the Oregon Public Utility Commission is soon expected to issue the results of its own investigation into renewables, he says. The probe, already completed, could lead to a green Request for Proposals. "The Commission is explicitly considering that," says Bain.

¥ Within the next 12 months, Requests for Proposals will be issued by Washington Water Power of Spokane, Puget Sound Power & Light and Pacific Power.

¥ Wind may feature prominently in PGE's least-cost plan to be issued this year, says Bain. Wind is also expected to be more prominent in the next four-yearly Northwest Power Plan. It is now in the early scoping stages and should be completed in 1995.

¥ In an indication of an important trend, an official says his Oregon electric utility may eventually invest much more in wind power. Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB), a partner in the Kenetech Wyoming plant recently approved by BPA, may heavily invest in wind in the coming decades, resource planning manager Scott Spettel told the Eugene Register-Guard. "I'd [now] characterise EWEB's involvement as a small scale -- break-even at best," he said. "But what we want to do is become familiar with the technology and become familiar with the industry."

¥ A pro-wind editorial was published in Oregon's Eugene Register Guard. Entitled "A finger to the wind," it says EWEB's $12 million investment in wind is a daring move, hedged by a partnership with other major utilities in the Wyoming project, with the assurance of a 75% sale of power to BPA. It concludes, "By investing early in what looks like the safest possible wind project, EWEB is gaining useful experience in a fast-emerging field." The utility's share of the project, currently the subject of a memorandum of understanding, is 12.5 MW. A firm agreement will probably be signed within a month, said Kenetech's Bud Grebey in mid-April. Other utilities involved are Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Pacific Power, and Public Service of Colorado.

¥ Two more Oregon public utility districts are considering wind power. Emerald People's Utility District and Springfield Utility Board are currently probing the technology. The former is holding a series of public meetings over the next few months. The latter may choose wind as part of its integrated resource plan, according to the Springfield News.

¥ New World Power Corp is reportedly considering a wind project near Cape Flattery on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. The proposal, which has been discussed with local native Americans, is in the very preliminary stages.

Positive phase

Commenting on this rash of activity, Bob Kahn, of the American Wind Energy Association, says: "I think we're in a positive phase. The fact that close to 15 different utilities in this region are in some way involved with wind is very significant." He says that in the future, the best opportunities for wind will be with the larger public utility districts, such as those involved in CARES, the consortium of northwest public utility districts involved in the FloWind Klickitat County project.

Don Bain predicts that by the year 2000, an additional 500 MW of wind is possible in the region, although the specific amount will depend upon load growth and natural gas prices. "Things are moving along," he says. Wind should feature more prominently in the next Northwest Power Plan, he says, because it is now lower in cost than before and the technology is being marketed more efficiently by the industry than when the plan was last drawn up four years ago.

"I think it's a bright future," says Bob Lynette of R Lynette & Associates, developer of the AWT-26 turbine. "I think there will be many hundreds of megawatts installed over the next decade." The AWT-26 from AWT Inc, is the offspring of FloWind and Bob Lynette. The Northwest's only home-grown wind turbine, it will be manufactured by Kaiser Space Products under an agreement with the company.

"We're excited about our two wind projects," says Fred Buckman, chief executive officer of PacifiCorp. "Wind generation has significant environmental benefits and for that reason it fulfils one of PacifiCorp's environmental goals. In addition, as costs drop with technical advances, wind can be an economical complement to our existing resources." Greg Duvall, PacifiCorp's director of power system co-ordination, adds that public acceptance of renewables seems "very high" in the Northwest. "The regional planning council and commissioners also seem very supportive of acquiring renewable resources," he says. "Everything we have heard supports cost-effective renewables."

The Columbia Hills project will be the first in the Northwest. "As this project shows, PGE is moving rapidly ahead to develop a diverse, environmentally responsible and cost-effective set of resources that can reliably meet customers' needs for the next two decades," says Richard Reiten, president of PGE. "Our wind projects are an important part of our plans to generate as much as 35% of our energy from renewables." Richard Sonstelie, Puget Power president is of a similar opinion: "The addition of wind to our resource mix is like having a diversified stock portfolio. There will always be a resource we can count on to produce power for our customers."

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