Stateline's 1st Windmills Turning Out Juiceby Wendy Culverwell, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, July 24, 2001
On an appropriately windswept hill above Wallula Junction, row upon row of windmills face the breeze.
Their massive three-bladed fans spin in the wind, converting wind energy into power to be distributed across the Northwest. By Monday, 26 windmills were energized and putting power on the Northwest grid through a connection with PacificCorp.
FPL Energy, owner and developer of the Stateline Wind Power Project, started installing the windmills in February at the site about halfway between Pasco and Walla Walla.
The first megawatts were sold July 15 on the real-time market to municipal utilities in the Northwest, said Barrett Stambler, director of renewable business development for PacifiCorp Power Marketing.
"In contrast to other forms of energy, (windmills) go up very quickly," said Joan Brown, manager of the project for FPL Energy.
FPL Energy, a subsidiary of Florida Power and Light Group, is developing the site and will continue to operate it after construction is finished. PacifiCorp Power Market, a sister company to Pacific Power, is responsible for selling power generated by the wind turbines, which eventually will number 396.
In theory, the completed project will be able to generate 271 megawatts of power, although in reality the striking-looking windmills will operate an average of 35 percent of the time. That means an average yield of about 100 megawatts, enough to supply about a quarter of the Tri-Cities' power needs.
The wind farm covers 50 square miles of leased farm and ranch land on both sides of the Washington-Oregon border.
Each windmill has a footprint of about 40 square feet, which means much of the land remains useful for agriculture and grazing.
"The cows can go right up and lean against them," Brown said.
So what is a Florida utility doing building a wind farm in the Northwest? To start with, FPL Energy isn't a utility in the connections-and-bills sense.
"The Florida part is almost immaterial," said Mary Wells, spokeswoman for FPL Energy. FPL Energy is a sister company to Florida Power and Light, which provides utility service to millions of customers in the East. FPL Energy, on the other hand, is in the energy development business.
That means it looks for opportunities to develop projects in spots where demand for power intersects with transmission lines and possible fuel.
The Wallula site fit to a T -- it has wind to propel the turbines, access to both PacifiCorp lines and the Bonneville Power Administration system, and, of course, there is an energy crisis in the West that makes new sources of energy especially attractive.
Brown said the massive project came on the heels of the company's successful Vansycle wind project to the south. That project, developed in 1998, can generate 25 megawatts.
It opened the door to us to realize what an excellent area this is for wind power," Brown explained.
To celebrate the new project's first megawatts, Brown and other site officials are spending this week giving tours to local and national media.
There currently are about 300 people working at the wind farm, which costs about $1 million per megawatt to develop.
FPL Energy originally planned to build a 400-megawatt project but scaled back slightly to avoid environmental issues, including the presence of the endangered Washington ground squirrel. Had it stuck to the 400-megawatt size, Stateline would have been the world's largest wind farm.
The blades are mounted on a housing unit the size of a minivan and sit atop a massive tower about 165 feet high. Wind propels the blades, which turn a shaft that drives a generator. The electricity goes to an underground distribution line, where it is carried to the main substation.
The blades need a minimum wind of 7 mph to turn and start generating electricity at 9 mph. A computer shuts down the turbine if the wind reaches 56 mph.
It will take just 16 to 20 people to operate the wind farm once initial construction is finished.
A county road serves the site, but the land is private, so officials are discouraging the public from visiting. Information about the project is available at FTP Energy's Walla Walla office, 25 Main St.
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