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Patty Murray gets look at wind energy 

Utility on Palouse seeks more transmission lines —

The three-bladed windmills that slice the air above the greening Palouse hills present a new crop for Columbia County farmers. They can mean as much as $1,000 a month, per wind turbine, when the wind is blowing and the electricity is flowing down the line to the Northwest’s power grid.

But there are limits to what a person can sow and reap in alternative energy. In the case of wind energy, one of the biggest limitations is not a shortage of land on which to plant the 200-foot-tall towers, but the shortage of capacity on the Bonneville Power Administration’s transmission lines.

Puget Sound Energy has 83 turbines spinning at Hopkins Ridge, a $200 million wind farm some 15 miles northeast of Dayton. They generate enough electricity to power about 50,000 homes.

But the utility could have put up even more towers, and generated more electricity, if there were capacity on the BPA lines, said Puget Sound Energy vice president Paul Wiegand.

On Monday afternoon, PSE invited Patty Murray, the state’s senior senator, out to the gusty hillsides with that message in mind. The utility wanted to show off the windmills, each of which is taller than a football field is long when one of the three blades reaches the top of its arc. They wanted to mention the economic impact of the construction and shipping the Danish-made windmills through the Port of Vancouver, and brag a bit about how the project came in ahead of schedule and under budget.

But mostly the utility wanted to do some lobbying. These projects won’t work if Congress doesn’t extend the Production Tax Credit, due to expire at the end of 2008, and they can’t reach their full potential unless BPA, a federal agency, builds more transmission lines, Wiegand and others said.

The lack of transmission capacity came up a few hours earlier ““ along with the war in Iraq, immigration policy and other alternative energy questions ““ when Murray sat down with some 20 local residents to talk about local concerns. Columbia County Commissioner Dwight Robanske estimated Hopkins Ridge and the nearby Marengo project for PacificCorp could have as many as 600 turbines, instead of about 200 now planned.

Congress does need to renew the tax credits so utilities can do some long-term planning on alternative energy, Murray said after touring the turbine farm.

“Transmission needs to be addressed. But it’s expensive,” she added. “We just haven’t focused BPA on transmission.”


Jim Camden
Staff writer
April 3, 2007


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