Wind power spins into the energy mainstream

 

Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to an essay, "Rearranging the grid."

While most of the power-strapped West looks toward fossil fuels for relief, wind power has quietly swept onto the energy playing field as a viable alternative.

Next month, on the Oregon-Washington border, construction will begin on the world's largest wind farm, where 450 windmills will churn out enough power for 70,000 homes. PacifiCorp, an Oregon-based utility, has agreed to buy all of the power from the facility for the next 25 years.

The project isn't expected to be up and running until the end of the year, so it won't be able to ease the West's energy crunch this winter. But supporters of the project say the wind farm near Walla Walla, Wash., will go a long way toward providing a reliable, renewable energy source for the future.

"It's a spectacular breakthrough for Northwest wind power and cause for celebration among friends of sustainable energy development everywhere," says Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Announcement of the wind farm - called the Stateline Wind Generating Project - comes at a particularly significant moment. The West Coast is buckling under a power shortage and skyrocketing prices, largely because of California's deregulated energy market, increased demand and a supply shortfall. Government officials are calling for aggressive conservation and more generating plants.

PacifiCorp and FPL Energy of Florida, which will build and operate the wind farm, say the project has been in the works for more than a year, and the timing is purely coincidental. Still, the new wind project packs an extra punch because of the existing power problems.

"All of that high-priced natural gas really makes wind look good," says Rachel Shimshak, director of the Renewable Northwest Project, a nonprofit group that pushes for sustainable energy sources like wind, geothermal and solar. She calls the project "a smart business decision to go with stable-priced, indigenous, renewable resources."

Wind power has been the focus of experiments in the Northwest for decades. There are some smaller wind farms in operation, and last September the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council announced a joint venture with SeaWest WindPower Inc., to build a 22 megawatt facility on tribal land in northwest Montana. But none can match the scale and energy-creating potential of the Stateline farm. With the ability to generate 300 megawatts of power, it stands to forge its own niche in PacifiCorp's market and help put wind power on the map in the Northwest.

"This is wind power on a grand scale," says Terry Hudgens, president of PacifiCorp's power marketing arm.

The technology will also be different. Past wind farms used the old-style turbines that had smaller, rapidly spinning blades, which often killed scores of birds. The Stateline farm will have slow-moving, 150-foot blades, and technology that makes adjustments for wind speed and direction.

While utilities scramble to get new fossil fuel plants on line, which could take years, the Stateline project should start sending electricity to the grid by the end of 2001. The wind power will be merged with energy from the Northwest's hydroelectric dams and be sold in the 11 Western states - Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming and Utah.

Shimshak hopes the new farm will spark other renewable energy projects - and prompt utility companies to reduce their emphasis on fossil fuels. There are a handful of sustainable energy proposals under development in the Northwest, she says, but it's not enough.

"We're making progress, but we've got to keep looking at the bigger picture," she says.

PacifiCorp officials seem to agree. Utilities can no longer afford to rely on single sources of energy, spokesman Dave Kvamme says. "Diversity of new sources is what's called for."

Mike Stark writes from Astoria, Oregon.

Copyright 2001 HCN and Mike Stark

High Country News Classifieds
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Membership Director Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Classification: Full-time exempt Location: Boise, ID Job Overview Winter Wildlands Alliance is seeking a...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors LOCATION: Ashland, OR POSTING CLOSES: March...
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • NEW MEXICO PROPERTY - SILVER CITY
    20 acres, $80,000. Owner financing, well, driveway, fencing possible, very private, sensible covenants, broker owned. Contact - 575-534-7955 or [email protected]
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    ABOUT US: "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes." - Billings Gazette At Northern Plains, we believe that true...
  • ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR IN THE OUTDOOR PROGRAM
    To view the complete position description please visit: http://employment.stlawu.edu. St. Lawrence University is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
  • TRAIL CREW & ASSISTANT TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    SEEKING TALENTED TRAIL WORK LEADERS The Pacific Crest Trail Association, headquartered in Sacramento, California is dedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the Pacific Crest National...
  • SEASONAL SAN JUAN RANGERS
    Seeking experienced crew members to patrol Colorado's most iconic mountain wilderness.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • WILDERNESS CONSERVATION CORPS - OREGON
    The Siskiyou Mountain Club is hiring interns for the 2020 Field Season. Interns utilize non-mechanized tools to complete trail restoration and maintenance while gaining job...
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.