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Another attempt on the Columbia Hills

In the US Northwest, a co-operative set up to benefit small publicly owned utilities has bought the wind development rights to 20,000 acres of land in southern Washington and plans to install up to 200 MW in the next two years. Meantime, after a battle with a bird protection society, Michael Kitchen finally won the rights to build his 1 MW Mariah wind project in the Columbia Hills.

In the US Northwest, Last Mile Electric Cooperative (LMEC) has bought the wind development rights to 20,000 acres of land in southern Washington from Northwestern Wind Power and Seawest -- and plans to install up to 200 MW in the next two years.

LMEC was formed in 2001 to provide a way for small Northwest publicly owned utilities, who now buy all their power from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), to develop renewable energy projects. Beginning in 2006, BPA may require those customers to acquire a portion of their electricity elsewhere and wind could fill the bill, says LMEC's Dave Warren.

"With wind, these utilities can go back to their board and offer a product at a known quantity and with no fuel price risk," Warren says. "This is the first step to develop wind power for typically smaller and conservative utilities."

The land is in eastern Klickitat County in an area known as Columbia Hills. Long a favoured spot for wind projects, little has been developed there. The US Department of Energy tested several wind turbines in the Columbia Hills in the late 1980s and Kenetech Windpower began developing the area in the early 1990s, but had not built anything by the time of its bankruptcy.

Meantime, after a battle with the local group of the Audubon Society, a national bird protection group, Michael Kitchen finally won the rights to build his 1 MW Mariah wind project in the area. It uses 16, ESI-54, 50 kW turbines salvaged from the Whiskey Run wind project on the Oregon coast (Windpower Monthly, March 2001). Kitchen's project continues to be the only developed site along the wind-rich ridge.

Warren says the previous owners to the wind rights had completed some avian and vegetation studies and that LMEC is talking with the Yakama Nation to get their approval of cultural artefacts. The rights to developing the Kenetech property are now owned by GE Wind Energy.

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