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Energy is Blowin' in the Wind

by Tom Koenninger, Editor Emeritus of The Columbian
The Columbian, May 26, 2004

WALLA WALLA -- Trade wind for water? When it comes to electrical generation during drought conditions, wind-power turbines take on new importance. Think of wind green, clean and renewable. It burns no fuel to generate electricity, and causes no pollution. If wind can create electricity, water can be stored for future hydro-power generation.

It's easy to imagine the growing use of wind as a visitor views the ridgetops south of Touchet, a hamlet a few miles west of here on U.S. Highway 12. Wind turbines each 242 feet high with a three-bladed propeller dot the landscape for 11 miles over 70 square miles, but occupy only 100 acres of space. While there doesn't appear to be a problem in this sparsely-settled area, some people dislike altering the natural landscape with man-made windmills.

This wind farm is the Stateline Energy Center, the largest generating facility in the nation with 454 turbines, according to Anne Walsh, community relations manager for FPL Energy. FPL Energy, with corporate headquarters in Juno Beach, Fla., is a generating sister of Florida Power and Light. FPL Energy operates 40 wind farms nationwide.

Stateline is capable of producing 300 megawatts of energy, enough to electrify 70,000 homes. Its turbines can create power at a wind speed as low as 9 mph, and reach peak production at 33 mph.

Marketing from this facility is through PPM Energy, which sells it to customers including the Bonneville Power Administration. Trouble is, there's no gigantic battery to store the power produced through wind generation, and that poses marketing complexities.

Debra Malin has worked with those problems. She is the account executive for renewable marketing for the BPA. Malin says the BPA is a wholesaler, and markets renewable power, including wind and solar, to other utilities, using the flexibility of the hydro system to displace hydro with wind, allowing more water to be stored behind the dams.

Waiting for the trend to emerge

Still, wind power is a small player, supplying 1 percent or less of the Northwest power needs. Last year, the bulk of BPA was about 80 percent hydro, with the rest from a variety of sources, including wind, solar and nuclear. Wind was .02 percent. However, private companies also market wind power.

Wind power holds great promise from a national and world outlook. La Center resident Chris Crowley, who is developing a three-turbine project 130 miles east of Vancouver at Arlington, Ore., shares that view and has provided supportive information.

"Wind is the world's fastest-growing energy source," according to an article in Clean Edge News, a trade publication. The story reported wind-generating capacity increased 32 percent each year between 1998 and 2002.

Europe produces three-fourths of the world's wind-generated power, with Germany the leader at 12,000 megawatts, more than double the wind-farm output of the United States. Congress has been slow to extend the wind energy production tax credit, a disincentive to building more wind generation facilities.

Meanwhile, the promise of wind has been proved as a source of clean power. The industry has made its turbines more efficient, more silent, and more bird-friendly. Landowners are paid $2,000 to $4,000 per acre, according to The New York Times.

Issues remain such as sight blight, blending power from various sources, storing it and sending it over transmission lines that are often already loaded.

Wind power is a growing industry. It's clear wind farms should not be built in populated areas, on the rim of the Grand Canyon or inside the boundaries of the Columbia River Gorge. But in Walla Walla it seems to be just another farm among wheat farms, grape vineyards, asparagus crops and growers of "Walla Walla Sweets," onions of regional repute.

Instead of watching diminishing fossil fuels rise sky-high in price, entrepreneurs are harnessing the wind a perpetual source of clean energy for the benefit of all.

Tom Koenninger is editor emeritus of The Columbian. His column of personal opinion appears on the Other Opinions page each Wednesday.
Energy is Blowin' in the Wind
The Columbian, May 26, 2004

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