United States

United States

Getting businesslike about wind assets

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Such is the anxiety not to fall behind in the wind development stakes in the US Northwest that rural electric co-operatives and municipal utilities are building a coalition to develop 300 MW of wind energy by 2006 and 1000 MW over the next 20 years. The aim is to close the gap on the private sector which is thought to be ahead by up to a year.

Many of the best wind sites being tied up by private developers are on farmland served by co-operatives. It is these sites that should be developed by the area's electric co-operatives and not private developers, says Aaron Jones, manager of the Washington Rural Electric Co-operative Association. He compares wind power development in the Northwest to the development of hydropower on the Columbia River since the 1930s, when most of the river's hydro system was built by the federal government or consumer-owned utilities. "How many extremely good wind sites are there in the Northwest and who will own them when this is all over?" Jones asks.

"The more I learn about wind, the more potential it seems to have, especially in the Northwest where it can work well in tandem with the hydro system," continues Jones. "So far I've gotten a strong response from utilities and from farmers."

Jones formed the Utility Wind Development Group early this year and already he has attracted the interest of ten to 15 electric co-operatives and municipalities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and Northern California. The co-operative model Jones touts joins utilities and landowners and tries to get the best deal for everyone: lower rates for green energy for co-op customers and fair treatment for farmers. Farmers are excited about wind and think of it as another crop and a new way to send their kids to college. "If they have a windy site, wind turbines will probably bring in more money than their crops do now," Jones says.

"I get calls from farmers daily," says Jones. He is worried about whether they are treated fairly. "We're having to add staff just to follow up on the leads. One of our major missions is to make sure these farmers don't sign away the rights to wind they have on their property without first knowing the value of what they have." When the wind rush ends, rural landowners should have a good taste in their mouth about wind development, he says. "We all want it to be a low cost resource, but we don't want that at the expense of the farmers."

The Utility Wind Development Group intends to choose half a dozen farm sites and begin testing the wind resource this month. The next stage is to build wind projects where it finds the best wind and the most interest from co-op members.

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