A decision by Klickitat County Commissioners in 2005 may nearly double the assessed value of the county by 2008.
On March 15, 2005, the county passed the nation’s first energy overlay zone with an ordinance that expedites wind farm permits. Two years later, 133 turbines of the Big Horn wind farm near Bickleton are up and running, with a 200-megawatt capacity, and there are six other major projects in various stages of development.
“The whole county is valued at $1.7 billion dollars,” said Klickitat PUD Manager Tom Svendsen. He said the wind projects represented a total of about 1,500 megawatts of capacity, and at the standard cost of $1 million of investment to construct a megawatt of power-producing capacity, the county could expect $1.5 billion in new investment.
And that’s not all.
“I just had a meeting yesterday with another company,” said Klickitat County Planning Director Curt Dreyer Thursday. “It looks like we’ll have another application for a wind farm in the Centerville area, and perhaps two others.”
By comparison, The Dalles Dam can produce up to 1,000 megawatts.
In order to sell that power, wind farm operators have to connect the generating capacity to the grid. The Big Horn project is tied into a line that connects to the Big Eddy substation near The Dalles, but that project’s output ties up the available capacity on that line.
That’s where Bonneville Power Administration comes into the picture. High atop the Goodnoe Hills, on a 7.5-acre site, Bonneville is building a 1,400 megawatt substation underneath the existing Wautoma-John Day No.1 500-kilovolt transmission line that carries power from the John Day Dam.
Dubbed the Rock Creek Substation, construction began at the site last August with site preparation, fencing, and the erection of a concrete block building to house switching mechanisms.
Pat Brockaway, who lives in the Portland area, is the working electrical foreman at the site. He’s been 21 years with BPA and he supervises a dozen electricians working on the project. A separate crew of construction workers swarm over devices reminiscent of a Hollywood scientist’s laboratory, circa 1935, but scaled up to spectacular size.
Brockaway explains that H-shaped devices are remote cutoffs, that can disconnect portions of station “like a big wall switch.” Horizontal capsule shapes raised on angle-iron scaffolding turn out to be giant circuit-breakers that will open the circuit if there are problems on the line. They also allow operators to isolate parts of the system if needed for testing or repair. Still other poles will hold thick conducting cable connecting to the 500 kilovolt line 85 feet above the ground.
Power will come into substation from three 230-kilovolt lines that will connect with wind farm sites, at a cost of $500,000 a mile. Giant transformers at the substation will step up the voltage to 500 kilovolt to feed to the existing line.
Everywhere on site there are footings awaiting cement. The construction side of the project was delayed by weather for six weeks.
“The roads just opened up yesterday for heavy trucks,” said Brockaway Wednesday.
Such delays were not unexpected, and Brockaway said the project should be completed as scheduled by the end of August.
Tom Svendsen’s Klickitat PUD is part of an unusual consortium of public power companies including Cowlitz County Public Utility, Lakeview Light and Power, and Tanner Electric Cooperative. Operating as White Creek Project, LLC, their 200-megawatt project six miles north of Roosevelt will be the largest consumer-owned wind project in the United States.
The White Creek Wind Project will be constructed in two phases, with about 100 megawatts coming on line in 2007 and the balance in 2008. Ultimately it will sport 87 Siemens 2.3 megawatt turbines that will be delivered and installed by late 2007 with the remainder scheduled for 2008.
Another major player will be Northwest Wind Partners, LLC, (originally organized as Windtricity).
Northwest Wind Partners (NWP) involves Ross Management, which oversees a group of family-owned businesses founded by contractor Ty Ross of Goldendale in the 1960s. Other arms of the company are involved with such diverse activities as construction of a natural gas power plant in Yemen, management of industrial byproducts in Japan, trucking and property development in the Northwest.
Last October, Ross Management signed an agreement with enXco, the largest operations and maintenance third-party provider for wind farms in the world.
The original partner, Groupo Guascor International of Spain reprioritized to concentrate on its interests in Spain, Dave Luneke is the engineering manager for NWP. They have two project sites at either end of the Goodnoe Hills – Hoctor Ridge and Linden Ranch – totaling 150 megawatts capacity.
“We’re working hard to bring family-wage jobs to Klickitat County,” Luneke said.
He said NWP’s strategy was to involve all stakeholders from an early stage. Early on, he said, the Friends of the Gorge raised objections to a few of the turbines that would be visible from Maryhill Museum.
“I wrote back and said “˜It’s somewhat a misrepresentation for you to characterize this as a negative impact, because the museum has signed wind leases of its own,'” Luneke said.
The museum itself lies outside the eastern boundary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
In the end, Luneke said, the Friends of the Gorge did not oppose the NWP application, demonstrating the value of a consensus approach.
He also highly praised Columbia Gorge Community College for its decision to develop a certified wind technician program.
“Of all the people developing wind farms in the area, we are the only ones who committed staff to the project,” Luneke said. “One of our engineers is assigned to it.”
With windpower development on a huge upswing in the U.S. and abroad, technicians trained in wind generation technology are in short supply, and the next closest college offering that training is in the Midwest.
Luneke said construction will begin at both NWP sites in a few weeks, dependent on the weather.
Another major player is Windy Point Partners, whose 14,893-acre wind farm will be located between the two NWP areas. Windy Point is affiliated with Cannon Power Corporation, a national company. Plans for the local site call for 97 of the 2.5 megawatt turbines, with a capacity approaching 250 megawatts
Windy Point Partners will build two collector substations, Energizer and Willis, while Klickitat PUD will build a 230-kilovolt line to interconnect the collector substations to Rock Creek. Electricity generated by the wind turbines would be transmitted by a 34.5 kilovolt feeder system comprising approximately 22 miles of underground circuits.
The project would also include the improvement of approximately 15.5 miles of existing roads and the construction of approximately 6.5 miles of new access road.
Why the sudden rush to wind power? In part, its because the Columbia River Gorge is a natural wind funnel, and the same mostly steady winds that drew windsurfers to the area in the 1980s are now drawing the wind turbine companies.
Equally as large is a federal tax break that is due to expire at the end of 2008. It allows investors to take tax credits for the investment for 10 years, but only for systems that are in operation by Dec. 31, 2008.
The result is a help to farmers, who will receive rental payments for the turbine sites. It will also increase local employment and means additional revenue for local taxing bodies.
Klickitat County Assesor Harold J.”Van” Vandenberg says that can mean real revenue to local taxing districts.
“Those districts get a one-percent increase each year,” he said, “But they also get all the increase from new construction.”
Preliminary figures for the Big Horn project, which will be fully taxed in 2008, indicate the project will be valued at $165 million.
The Bickleton Volunteer Fire Department, whose current budget is $25,478, will get an estimated $76,814 from new taxes, bringing their annual budget to over $102,000.
Klickitat County stands to gain $226,149, plus $283,627 for the road fund. The state school fund, which is distributed back to local school districts in a complicated formula, will pick up an additional $476,461 annually. And the Fort Vancouver library, which operates libraries in Klickitat County, will add $58,979.
All those are preliminary projected figures, Vandenberg said, and each of the additional projects should be proportional. If five more similar projects come on line, it could be worth nearly a million dollars annually to Klickitat County.
“Who knows what the lifespan of these turbines are,” Vandenberg said. “They’re probably good for 40 years, and with proper maintenance, they could last indefinitely.”
At least as long as the wind blows.
By Rodger Nichols
of The Dalles Chronicle
9 March 2007
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