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Oregon wind developer contemplates super-tall turbines

A proposed Oregon wind farm could become home to the nation’s tallest wind turbines, with blade tips reaching 650 feet into the air – more than 100 feet higher than the loftiest Portland skyscraper.

Avangrid Renewables is considering the turbines for the Golden Hills Wind Project near the town of Wasco, about 100 miles east of Portland.

State Energy Department staff this week recommended approval of the Portland-based company’s request to amend an existing site permit and allow for the mammoth turbines. At 650 feet, they would dwarf the 546-foot-tall Wells Fargo Center.

“We’re reacting to what we’re hearing from manufacturers about what’s in the future for turbines,” Brian Walsh, director of development at Avangrid Renewables, said. “Turbines have gotten bigger over time, and that’s a trend that continues to unfold.”

There are more than 57,000 wind turbines in the U.S., and nearly all of them top out under 500 feet, a level that brings added scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration. No Oregon wind turbines reach higher than that. Nationally, the commercial wind farm with the tallest turbines is in Maine, at 574 feet.

But as Walsh said, the trend is toward taller and bigger turbines that can deliver more power, more consistently.

A federal report on U.S. wind power this week highlighted a recent jump in permit applications for turbines taller than 500 feet. And earlier this year, a record-breaking 653.5-foot-tall prototype turbine was installed at the UL Advanced Wind Turbine Test Facility at West Texas A&M University.

Golden Hills is currently approved for up to 125 turbines with a tip height limit of 158 meters (518 feet), and a maximum total generating capacity of 400 megawatts.

Avangrid Renewables acquired the project last year from Orion Renewable Energy Group. It got an extension from state regulators from June 2018 to June 2020 for beginning construction of the project.

The company said in its site amendment filing that it “proposes to update turbine dimensions to reflect current technology it anticipates using for facility construction.” Because each turbine would produce more power – up to 4.2 megawatts apiece – the change could allow it to deploy fewer turbines, the company noted.

Whether it installs the super-tall turbines is up in the air. The company could determine that it makes more sense to forego the added expense of going higher and instead go with jumbo-sized rotors at a lower hub height.

“There’s no guarantee we’d go up to 650 feet,” Walsh said, “but we do want to have that option.”

First, though, the company needs to find a buyer for the power the wind farm would produce.

Utilities are one market – Portland General Electric is doing a renewables RFP right now – although solar is increasingly competitive, and wind power from especially blustery Montana sites is a growing possibility.

There could be corporate interest, as well. Avangrid Renewables is right now building a 202-megawatt wind farm in Oregon that will provide power to Apple Corp. That project, called Montague, is using 3.6 megawatt turbines, the most powerful ever installed in the Pacific Northwest, although they’re just under 500 feet tall.