Morrow County is going to be home to the nation’s first large-scale energy facility to combine power from wind, solar and battery storage.
Portland General Electric has partnered with NextEra Energy Resources to build the new Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility, consisting of a 300-megawatt wind farm, a 30-megawatt battery storage facility and a new 50-megawatt solar farm. PGE spokesperson Steve Corson said the combination of that size is a first in North America, according to the experts at NextEra.
“They have told us the only other facilities are pretty tiny – in the 2 megawatt range,” he said.
The new facility will put PGE’s wind generation portfolio to more than 1,000 megawatts (1 gigawatt) – enough to serve the equivalent of 340,000 homes. The solar farm will be one of the largest in Oregon, while the battery storage facility will not only be the largest in the state, but one of the largest in the United States.
GE Renewable Energy Inc. is producing the 120 wind turbines, which will go up just north of Lexington. The project has not determined the specific equipment for the solar farm and battery storage facility. Corson said the wind farm will come online by the end of 2020, then work begins in 2021 on the solar array and the battery storage. Once complete, he said, PGE expects half of the power it produces will be emissions free.
“This is an important milestone for us, and we’re pleased to be moving in that direction,” Corson said, because it will dramatically reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions while helping meet Oregon’s climate change goals and transition to a clean energy future for customers.
The timing is critical for PGE. The company is shutting down its 450-megawatt coal-fired plant outside Boardman at the end of 2020. Corson said Wheatridge Renewable is not a one-to-one replacement for the coal plant, which has served as a power generating workhorse, able to run 24-7. But the wind farm will help fill the gap, he said, and PGE last year signed deals to buy hydropower. That’s the kind of reliable energy “we can call on when we need it,” he said.
The solar farm will charge the large batteries, which can provide 30 megawatts of continuous power for 4 hours. Eventually, Corson said, the wind farm also will contribute to the battery storage. He explained wind sometimes will be the primary energy producer at the site and solar will come to the fore other times, “and the batteries help even out the flow.”
PGE also is keeping an eye on the Oregon Legislature’s move to produce a carbon cap-and-trade bill. Corson said Wheatridge Renewable is not a response to that possible law.
“We’re down in Salem and we’re optimistic this could be the year a well-developed cap-and-trade program comes through,” he said, but PGE has been “on the path for a while now” toward clean energy production. Oregon law even requires the company to pull out of its share of the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, Montana, by 2035.
Staying in Morrow County is another of Portland General Electric’s aims.
“We have a long history there in Morrow County, and it’s important for us to continue to be a good neighbor,” he said, and the new energy production facility will require hundreds of workers during construction and afterward contributing to the county’s tax base.
Morrow County Commissioner Don Russell praised the project, and the significance it will have for Eastern Oregon residents.
“A lot of those employees live in Morrow County – others live in Umatilla and Gilliam,” he said. “They’re good contributors to the county. They’ll retrain people who worked at the coal-fired plant to work at the wind and solar facilities – it’ll retain those jobs.”
Russell also said the project will give local farmers and ranchers the opportunity to have another revenue stream.
“A lot of landowners in Morrow County, primarily dryland wheat farmers, will have wind towers on their property,” he said. “They’ll get another source of income, and not have to rely completely on Mother Nature.”
Russell said the negotiations for where wind towers will be located, and how much farmers will be reimbursed, are all between individual landowners and NextEra. He said the reimbursement depends on the size of the windmills, but landowners can earn a lot of money from having them on their property, while still being able to farm right up to the structures.
Russell said the county is working to finalize a Strategic Investment Program (SIP) agreement with the companies, meaning that in lieu of property taxes, the companies will pay some portion of their income to local entities, such as the county and taxing districts. He said they expect to have the agreement within the next month.
State law dictates that the first $25 million of the project goes on the tax rolls, Russell said, and the next $500,000 goes toward a “community service fee” – distributed between all the taxing districts in the code area, by the percentage they would get from their tax rate.
Any other funds left over are “discretionary funds,” which the county can use for various projects. He said the first $1 million of discretionary money from the project is earmarked for a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) program at Morrow County School District and Ione Community School.
Russell said a SIP agreement had been finalized, but that was before the project was expanded to include solar and battery power. They are in the process of renegotiating the agreement.
He said he hadn’t seen the total financial value of the project yet, but in the past, energy projects have been valued by the amount of electricity they can produce.
Port of Morrow Manager Ryan Neal said the project is the latest step in the region’s renewable energy efforts.
“It just adds another piece to generation that’s renewable and green in Morrow County,” he said.
He said the project has been in the works for a long time, and has gone through a few different incarnations.
“I think it’s just another tool in the tool box,” he said.
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