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Energy Northwest Breaks Ground on Wind Project

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, March 12, 2002

Larry Bateman leaned into the wind as he walked.

"Probably about 25 mph," he shouted over the gusts.

Then he pulled a hand-held gauge from his pickup's cab and flipped open the instrument.

He'd guessed a bit high. Wind speeds near the crest of Nine Canyon Road south of Finley registered 20 mph.

But that was more than enough for a few dozen dust-covered dignitaries who gathered at a remote Benton County wheat field Monday afternoon to witness the future of public power in Washington.

The ceremony was to break ground on the Nine Canyon wind project, the largest public power wind farm in the nation and one that is expected to spark interest in wind elsewhere.

"Just think about the amount of power that would have been generated today if those windmills would have been up," said Don McManman, spokesman for Energy Northwest.

By fall, all 37 turbines should be installed on a ridge eight miles south of Kennewick. They'll have the capacity to generate 48 megawatts, enough to power about 12,000 homes.

"The most notable feature of the skylines of Pasco and Kennewick from now on will be those big windmills turning slowly, pumping out energy, keeping the lights on," McManman said.

Power production aside, Monday's event also served to symbolize the resurrection of public power in Washington, which is still recovering from the devastating $2.25 billion bond default of the Washington Public Power Supply System in 1982.

Energy Northwest -- the transformed WPPSS -- hadn't returned to Wall Street to ask for financing on its own until late last year.

"There was some apprehension" about floating a $70 million bond for Nine Canyon, said Sid Morrison of Zillah, who sits on the executive board of Energy Northwest.

But financing proved to be friendly -- the bonds were sold at 5.85 percent net interest -- and the 300-foot-high windmills are being built in Denmark. They will be barged up the Columbia River, then trucked to the site, east of Jump Off Joe Butte.

The fiberglass blades will turn at about 20 revolutions per minute and are designed to withstand gusts up to 123 mph. They will start automatically when wind speeds reach 7 mph and shut down at 56 mph. Each windmill cost about $1.2 million.

A visitors center is part of the design. "We want to make it as community friendly as we can," said Daniel Porter, manager of project development for Energy Northwest.

At least in part, that is because Energy Northwest and its eight public utility district partners are trying to renew public confidence in their charter and become aggressive leaders of renewable energy sources.

"We are just establishing ourselves as (an organization) that is sensitive to the environment ... and the energy sources of the future," said Vic Parrish, CEO of Energy Northwest. "We are broadening our experience base and our skills."

The effort has not gone unnoticed. "It's great to see unlikely players step up to the development of wind," said Sonja Ling, policy analyst for Renewable Northwest Project, a regional clean power advocacy group.

Parrish foresees solar power and alternative fuels as potentially important parts of the Energy Northwest's expanding portfolio. "My hope is that public power will be the leaders."

And for that to happen, Nine Canyon must stay on schedule and deliver the energy it's promised.

"This is a very key project for us," Parrish said.

The project also is of some consequence to Bateman, whose family owns a few thousand acres of Horse Heaven Hills wheat land and has agreed to let Energy Northwest lease ground for its towers.

Bateman said the family had been approached before by wind developers who didn't care to integrate their project with the farm operations.

"We just told them to go fly a kite," said Bateman.

Energy Northwest's approach was different and the Batemans are evaluating terms of a possible expansion of the wind farm on their land, a project that utility officials are eager to start.

Energy Northwest paid each landowner a one-time sum of $500 for each turbine erected on their land and annual rent of $1,000 or 3.5 percent of gross revenues attributable to the windmills, whichever is greater.

"It's more than pocket change," Bateman said. "You can't farm the ground for what the towers will produce. That is why it is attractive."

Mike Lee
Energy Northwest Breaks Ground on Wind Project
Tri-City Herald, March 12, 2002

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