Dams Back Big Northwest U.S. Push for Wind PowerNigel Hunt
Reuters - November 16, 2001
LOS ANGELES, Nov 16 (Reuters) - The Pacific Northwest is not among the windiest areas of the United States but that doesn't seem to be slowing its rapid emergence as a leading region for the production of wind energy.
``A lot of it is driven by the environmental consciousness of the Northwest ... Wind resources in the Northwest in general are of lesser production quality than places like Palm Springs (California),'' said David Roberts, a vice president with wind project developer SeaWest WindPower Inc.
A second major factor behind the rise in wind power is the fact that the Pacific Northwest is a region where ``the fuel comes from the sky.'' About 70 to 80 percent of the Northwest's electricity comes from a vast system of hydroelectric dams.
Wind projects only work about about 30 to 40 percent of the time compared with about 90 percent for some fossil fueled power plants. When the wind doesn't blow, they don't produce.
To ensure a reliable flow of electricity they must therefore be paired with another power source. Hydropower is the ideal partner since water can be stored behind the dams when the wind is blowing and released through turbines when it dies down.
``It (hydropower) makes a nice battery for the wind,'' said Rachel Shimshak, Director of the Renewable Northwest Project, an advocacy group promoting wind, solar and geothermal energy.
Roberts of SeaWest noted some of best wind potential in the region was in the Columbia River gorge area which runs along the Washington-Oregon border.
Along that border FPL Energy, a unit of FPL Group Inc, is constructing a project which may next year become the largest wind energy generating site in the world.
Dave Kvamme, of Scottish Power Plc unit PacifiCorp Power Marketing (PPM), said the Stateline Wind Generating Plant should have a capacity of 265 megawatts by the end of the year and could reach its original target of 300 MW next year.
PPM is marketing the energy produced at Stateline.
Kvamme said that by the end of the year Stateline should be the second biggest wind farm in the country, surpassed only by FPL Energy's 282 MW King Mountain facility in Texas.
One megawatt is roughly enough power for 1,000 homes.
``Projects are tending to grow larger. Wind energy projects used to be in the 20 to 30 MW size. Now projects are often 50 to 100 MW and once or twice greater than 200 MW. There are economies of scale in construction,'' SeaWest's Roberts said.
Roberts said the willingness of PPM and its sister company utility PacifiCorp to buy wind power, combined with similar interest from a federal agency, the Portland, Ore.-based Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), had also been key factors behind the expansion.
Shimshak noted PPM's willingness to buy Stateline's entire output had sent a strong signal to wind power developers.
``For a single entity to buy that much wind all at once was a big deal and was another signal to the market that the Northwest was the place to be,'' Shimshak said.
BPA, which markets power from such giant federal hydropower dams as Bonneville and Grand Coulee, said in June they were looking at seven wind projects totaling 830 MW for possible development.
On Thursday, U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said BPA will buy the entire output of a 50 MW wind project in Gilliam County in Oregon.
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