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Interest in wind farms blows in  

Southwest Washington is likely to see wind turbines on the horizon thanks to burgeoning demand for renewable energy in the region, according to developers of Clark County’s first wind farm proposal.

Representatives of a large energy developer eyeing a state-owned ridgeline in east Clark County indicated Wednesday that plenty of wind prospectors are scouring the landscape for potential wind farm locations. The company, enXco Inc., wants to lease state timberland to build as many as 39 skyscraper-high wind turbines near Larch Mountain.

Although wind turbines have speckled the landscape in Eastern Washington over the past few years, enXco’s proposal marks one of the first signs that the boom may be trickling across the west side of the Cascade Range.

“There are a lot of good resources spread all over the place,” said Troy Gagliano, an associate project developer for the California company’s regional office in Portland.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Gagliano and enXco land acquisition agent Matt Hazard said it’s still too early to know whether the company will follow through on its proposal to lease 5,400 acres of state Department of Natural Resources timberland. Hazard said the company contacted the DNR about the Larch Mountain area after examining a regional wind-energy map produced by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The company will spend the next year measuring wind speed, direction and duration along roughly nine miles of ridgeline.

“We might discover the wind isn’t quite as good as that map showed us,” Gagliano said.

The company suggested in its application that it could build as many as 39 turbines generating 20 to 40 megawatts of energy, although it provided no detail about how it would transmit the energy to the region’s transmission grid.

One potential customer would be Clark Public Utilities. The utility serves more than 170,000 homes and businesses in Clark County, and it faces a voter-mandated requirement for utilities to increase renewable energy sources to 15 percent of their supply by 2020.

Yet utility officials heard nothing about the proposal until informed by The Columbian last week, spokesman Mick Shutt said.

“They need to get the power out of here somehow. They can’t do it themselves,” Shutt said. “I would think they would need customers, as well. The easiest place to sell it would be right where you generate it.”

A west-side wind boom is no sure bet.

That’s because one of the biggest advantages to building wind farms west of the Cascades also is perhaps the biggest disadvantage: the presence of the majority of the region’s population. While it’s efficient to generate energy close to big cities, 400-foot-tall wind turbines run the risk displeasing more neighbors here than in sparsely populated swaths of Eastern Washington.

“You get into this looming effect,” said Allen Fiksdal, director of the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. “It’s a visual resource kind of issue.

Any aesthetic or environmental concerns should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, said Rachel Shimshak, director of Renewable Northwest Project, a Portland-based advocacy group for renewable energy. Shimshak and other wind-energy experts anticipate more proposals to pop up in Western Washington and Oregon, especially as companies develop the most obvious locations east of the Cascades.

“We should anticipate there will be more project proposals,” Shimshak said.

Scattering wind turbines across a wide area of the Northwest also helps to improve the cumulative efficiency of wind energy as a reliable energy resource.

Gagliano, with enXco, said his company already owns or operates 46 wind farms with some 3,800 turbines across the country. He said the 21-year-old company, which opened a Portland office two years ago, is exploring solar, biomass and geothermal renewable energy sources along with wind in the Northwest.

“That’s one of the beauties of renewables,” he said. “The whole region – urban, rural; east side, west side – is blessed with an abundance of renewables.”

By Erik Robinson
Columbian staff writer

The Columbian

29 May 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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