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Talks for expansion of model project -- Vansycle plans for 200 MW

A large expansion of the 25 MW Vansycle Ridge wind farm in northeast Oregon is apparently being planned by FPL Energy. For the past several months, the Florida power company -- a leading US wind plant developer -- has been in talks with the Bonneville Power Administration about expanding its project by as much as 200 MW.

Behind the scene moves on a large expansion of the Vansycle Ridge wind farm in northeast Oregon are apparently being made by FPL Energy. For the past several months, the Florida power company -- a leading US wind plant developer -- has been in talks with the Bonneville Power Administration about expanding its 24.9 MW Vansycle project by as much as 200 MW, according to Dave Stewart-Smith of the energy resource division of Oregon's Office of Energy. Stewart-Smith is also secretary to the Energy Facilities Siting Council in Oregon, which must approve any generating project over 25 MW.

FPL Energy must work with BPA, a government agency that owns much of the Northwest's hydroelectric system as well as most of the region's transmission capacity. Although the site is near transmission lines, the initial phase required upgrading local lines and a substation to deliver the energy to market. Presumably, the next larger phase would require a much larger upgrade to move the power.

According to Gail Trinka of FPL Energy, Vansycle is only one of many wind projects the company is looking at and any talks that may be occurring any place are in their infancy. "At this time, we're looking at a lot of opportunities," says Trinka. "Until we put things down on paper, this or any project is not concrete. There is nothing we can talk about without jeopardising this project."

Stewart-Smith says the project his organisation has been peripherally involved in lies along the Oregon/Washington border. He expects most of the expansion would be in Washington where state approval of generating projects smaller than 250 MW is not required. FPL Energy will still have to go through a permitting and environmental process with Walla Walla County in Washington, which it has yet to do. The first phase of the Vansycle Ridge wind farm did not need approval of the Oregon Facilities Siting Council because it was purposely kept below the 25 MW cut-off.

Audubon support

Just how far along the project has come is unknown. FPL may have done much of the groundwork before it installed the first 38 V-47 Vestas turbines. Although the current project covers 5 hectares (12 acres), including access roads, FPL Energy may hold leases on as much as 1940 hectares across the top of the ridge. During the first phase it worked extensively with regional and environmental groups to build an ecologically sound facility.

It initially addressed both avian concerns and the needs of local farmers -- wheat grows right up to the base of the turbines. According to Dennis White, conservation chair of the Columbia River Gorge Chapter of the National Audubon Society, Vansycle is a model project.

"We supported the initial phase of the project," White says. "It consistently stays within agricultural areas, does not adversely impact the avian resource and was supported by the affected tribe, and for that I think it is a model project."

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