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Utility Might Catch the Wind

by Al Gibbs, Staff Writer
The News Tribune, September 18, 2003

Lakewood's Lakeview Light & Power could become the latest electric utility in the region to get connected to wind power.

The utility has signed on with six other utilities and an energy conservation organization to develop 150 megawatts to 200 megawatts of wind power in southeastern Washington.

The group, represented by Last Mile Electric Cooperative, has gotten wind development rights to about 20,000 acres of high desert land north of the Columbia River near the tiny Klickitat County town of Roosevelt.

"We want to be prepared if Bonneville (Power Administration) can't meet load growth in the future," said Robin Rego, general manager of Lakeview and a board member of Last Mile.

Last Mile was organized two years ago to allow small, consumer-owned electric utilities such as Lakeview to develop projects like this. It has members in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.

With about 9,000 customers and only about 34 megawatts of average load, Lakeview is surrounded by two much larger utilities, Tacoma Power and Puget Sound Energy.

Lakeview grows about 1 percent a year, Rego said. That's less than half the region's average growth rate.

But Bonneville is already oversubscribed. The federal power-marketing agency must provide about 3,000 megawatts more power than is now furnished by hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers and an Energy Northwest nuclear plant.

The wind project appears to fit into growth prospects of Lakeview and its partners, including Mason County Public Utility District No. 3 and Tanner Electric Cooperative of North Bend.

Under initial plans, Last Mile would design the project to feed into Bonneville transmission lines.

Bonneville would agree to augment the project's wind power, since wind projects generate only about one-third of the time and hydroelectric plants are perfect augmentation sources of the remaining power.

Building such a project is relatively simple after a variety of permits have been gained.

"If you get your permits in hand and you get in line with a turbine order, you can put this up in a matter of months," said Dave Warren, the outgoing executive director of Last Mile.

Last Mile hopes to have the project in operation before Bonneville goes into its next contract period in October 2006.

Whether Lakeview will participate financially is that utility's biggest hurdle.

"We have been debt-free since 1922" - when the utility borrowed $500 to get started, Rego said.

"We need to get (financially) prequalified," he added. "Our customers would be quite concerned if we go into debt."

Financial information, however, seems to be on the project's side. Because of a federal grant program, wind power can be generated for about 2.6 cents a kilowatt-hour. A kilowatt-hour equals 1,000 watts of power consumed in an hour.

By comparison, the day-ahead open market on Friday quoted prices of about 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour during peak-use periods in the morning and evening and 3.5 cents during off-peak hours.

The next step is to get proper state permits, Warren said.

After that, Last Mile probably would look for a developer to build and operate a plant.

The half-dozen owners of the land itself are supportive. Owners typically receive $2,000 to $4,000 per year for each generating tower on their land, which they can then farm around.

"We're local," Warren said. "The (land) owners are local. They like to keep the money there.

"They're more than happy to work with us."

Staff writer Al Gibbs covers regional energy issues.
Utility Might Catch the Wind
The News Tribune, September 18, 2003

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