WARRENTON — There won’t be a cluster of wind turbine towers stretching hundreds of feet into the air at Camp Rilea in Warrenton anytime soon.
The Oregon Military Department has scuttled its plans to build the power-generating towers as part of its pledge to attain net-zero energy consumption at the facility.
Concerns that making the turbines smaller would cut into the project’s bottom line forced the Oregon Military Department to put the project on hold indefinitely. With the project off the books, the department will lose the cornerstone piece of its renewable energy portfolio at the military base.
“It’s a significant piece,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Safe, who works on engineering projects for the Oregon Military Department. “The resource potential there was enough to satisfy 30 to 40 percent of the net-zero goal.”
That figure is a conservative estimate, Safe added, and one that’s been on the books for nearly a year.
Last spring, the Oregon Military Department was selected from National Guard states and territories to pilot a net-zero energy and water program spearheaded by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.
With the initiative in place, Oregon’s National Guard facilities are tasked with the goal of using only as much energy as they produce. Development of the wind turbines was intended to turn that goal into a reality. Camp Rilea already has one test wind turbine whirling on its property.
In the planning stages since last fall, the wind turbines were never able to become a financially viable piece of Camp Rilea’s long-term plans. As originally conceived, Camp Rilea would have been home to seven turbines, reaching more than 400 feet into the air.
The Federal Aviation Administration reviewed the plans because of the proximity of aircraft flying into regional airports. The FAA suggested that turbines higher than 206 feet could have impacts on local aviation.
The National Renewable Energy Lab, which partnered with the Oregon Military Department to consult on the project, concluded that the amount of power generated by the smaller wind turbines – truncated in height by nearly half – would not be enough to make the project cost effective. The front-end development costs for a project on the scale that Camp Rilea proposed would be between $4 and $5 million, Safe said.
John Overholser, airport manager of the Astoria Regional Airport at Warrenton, said talks with the Oregon Military Department had gone smoothly. He said department officials appeared willing to tweak the project, so it would include twice as many turbines at the lower height.
Lowering the height of the proposed wind turbines would also ensure the altitude requirements for certain landing approaches to the airport didn’t change. Overholser said pilots flying into the airport did not want to start their approaches at a higher altitude, a requirement under the proposal that called for taller turbines.
“No one at the airport wants to raise those requirements,” he said. “If anything, we wanted to see them lowered.”
Some project stakeholders say they’d also like to see the project move forward at a smaller scale.
Gearhart City Councilor Diane Widdop, who belongs to the Seaside Airport Advisory Committee, said she supports a full-fledged investigation into alternative energy sources, but added that she prefers the smaller turbines.
“From our committee’s point of view, (smaller turbines don’t) affect aviation in the area,” Widdop said. “And that would be the only concern our committee would have.”
With the wind project on hold, the Oregon Military Department will continue to investigate renewable energy projects at Camp Rilea and the state’s other facilities, Safe said. Those projects would likely include a mix of solar, woody biomass or potentially wave energy.
Camp Rilea officials continue to move forward with early plans to site a wave-energy device off its shoreline. The device would be owned and managed by a third party.
“What’s being done now is very preliminary,” Safe said. “We’re trying to provide the tools to help enable that resource goes on.”