A wind energy developer wants to lease state-owned forest to build as many as 39 skyscraper-high wind turbines along a ridge near Larch Mountain in east Clark County.
The proposal, by a Portland-based subsidiary of enXco Inc., marks one of the first signs of westward migration for a wind energy boom that’s already caused windmills the size of office towers to sprout across Eastern Washington. Washington’s commissioner of public lands expects more to come.
“There are significant opportunities,” state lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland said Wednesday.
Evergreen Wind Power Partners applied for the lease on about 5,400 acres of forest land owned by Sutherland’s Department of Natural Resources. The agency is giving other potential applicants until June 9 before it begins negotiating a lease agreement with Evergreen.
“If there’s other interest, we’ll go ahead and hold a public auction,” agency spokeswoman Jane Chavey said.
A company official declined to comment on the proposal Wednesday.
The application characterizes the project as 20 to 40 megawatts, although full construction of 39 turbines described in the proposal – each rated for 1.5 megawatts – would be able to generate 58.5 megawatts. That’s roughly a tenth of the energy used in Clark County.
The windmills would loom well above the surrounding timberland, which DNR would continue to manage for forestry.
The towers themselves would be 260 feet tall, topped by tri-tipped blades that measure 150 feet from end to end. Although wind turbines benefit from a free and renewable fuel, the cost of buying the turbines and laying the necessary transmission lines drives the average cost of building a farm to as much as $1 million for every megawatt of capacity.
Green power demanded
The building boom is fueled in part by the fact that the public demands it.
Washington voters approved an initiative in 2006 requiring Clark Public Utilities and other large utilities to increase renewable energy sources to 15 percent of their supply by 2020, following step-up requirements of 3 percent in 2012 and 9 percent in 2016.
“Wind power is one of the best ways to meet that new obligation,” Sutherland said.
The two-term commissioner has been encouraging wind energy companies to take a look at state timberland as a way for the state to wring extra value from those lands while boosting the development of renewable energy.
“We think it makes good sense,” he said.
The state oversees 2.1 million acres of forest that’s supposed to be managed for the benefit of common schools, the Capitol and counties. For example, logging profits from state-owned lands pay for 25 percent to 30 percent of the state’s contribution to school construction costs.
The state has already been involved in leasing state-owned pastures for wind turbines in Eastern Washington.
However, energy generated east of the Cascades must be transmitted long distances across the already-jammed power grid to reach the bulk of the region’s population on the west side of the Cascades. Situated close to the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area, Larch Mountain has the benefit of plenty of wind pouring out of the Columbia River Gorge.
By Erik Robinson
Columbian Staff Writer
22 May 2008
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