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.