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Skirting around transmission limits -- EnXco seeks Northwest niche

US company EnXco is looking to develop large scale projects closer to population centres or industry than the typical wind projects in the Pacific Northwest. The company sees a unique opportunity for wind plant near to where the electricity is needed.

As it moves into the hot wind energy market of the Pacific Northwest, EnXco is looking to develop large scale -- over 100 MW -- projects closer to population centres or industry than the typical wind projects in the region. The company sees a unique opportunity for wind plant near to where the electricity is needed.

"We're looking for a combination of good wind and access to markets," says EnXco's David Steeb. "In fact, we are willing at times to look at less than optimal sites. But when marrying that with an ideal location near markets, the net benefits can be better." All of the nearly 1600 MW of wind projects so far announced in the Northwest are planned for east of the Cascade Mountains, a natural barrier that separates the heavily populated western parts of Washington and Oregon from the high desert of the east. Most are 160-320 kilometres from population centres.

As they are built, the electricity produced at these projects will further stress the already overloaded Northwest transmission system, 80% of which is owned by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Although BPA has plans to improve its 27,200 kilometres of transmission lines, it requires permission from Congress to extend its borrowing authority, something so far denied the agency. EnXco's strategy to build closer to where the electricity is needed could be timely. "The closer we can get to loads, that solves some of the transmission issues," Steeb says.

EnXco is primarily known for its operation and maintenance work at large wind projects around the world -- it manages over 4000 turbines worldwide, according to Steeb -- and is new in the wind development business. It has projects at Peetz, Colorado, and Chandler 2 and 3 and Chanarambie, all in Minnesota.

The company did not bid for contracts under BPA's recent 1000 MW wind solicitation because of the desire to build closer to markets. Still, it plans a big presence in the Northwest, where it believes the combination of a 3000 MW electric energy shortfall, limited gas pipeline capacity, and a hydroelectric system that can store green electrons until needed works in wind's favour. The company already has several sites locked up, and Steeb expects to announce at least one large project by the fourth quarter of this year.

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