Northwest Renewable News

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Winds of change: Port looks beyond recent green boom February 7, 2010

For two years, wind energy has brought a gale of a business to the Port of Longview. But change is blowing through the industry, and port officials say they are gearing for the end of boom times.

The port collected a combined $17.6 million in wind-energy handling fees in 2008 and 2009, and those fees were a major reason the port had record revenue each year. The off-loading of the giant wind towers, turbine blades and nacelles manufactured overseas has meant more work for area longshoremen, who recycle the money paid by shippers back into the community.

Federal officials are pushing for more domestic wind-energy manufacturing, which could translate into lower demand for imports through the port. The recession has stalled large-scale wind projects, and wind energy expansion is limited by the capacity of high-voltage transmission lines.

“The industry, as a whole, is experiencing some general flat-lining,” said Valerie Harris, Port of Longview marketing director.

Port officials forecast wind energy to be a steady commodity for about five to seven more years. Late in this decade, wind-energy equipment will likely come through the port intermittently instead of steadily, Harris said.

This year, business will slow down as a lagging effect of the recession, but it should pick up through the middle of the decade, Harris said.

In 2008, the port broke a nine-year-old record by hauling in $23.5 million in revenue. About 40 percent, or $9.4 million, was from wind-energy transport.

“It’s given us a lot of man hours and a lot of work, especially in the economic downturn,” said Dan Coffman, president of the Longview-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union local 21.

Port officials are predicting another record-breaking revenue year for 2009. Final numbers aren’t yet available, but the port’s wind-energy revenues fell to $8.2 million in 2009.

Going with the grain

So what’s the next big money-making cargo for the Port of Longview? The obvious answer is the $200 million grain terminal Portland-based EGT Development is building at the port. With a capacity of 8 million metric tons, the elevator is expected to make the Port of Longview a major West Coast grain exporter when it goes online next year.

The grain elevator is expected to create 50 full-time jobs, and 30 would go to longshoremen, Coffman said. The elevator likely will employ more people than wind energy imports because it will operate with more shifts, he said. Also, with demand rising in Asia, grain export isn’t likely to be a boom-and-bust business, port officials say.

“If wind energy does taper off, the (grain) facility will still be there,” said Ken O’Hollaren, Port of Longview executive director.

Revenue from log exports, once king at the port, is slowly coming back as the rest of the world emerges from the recession, O’Hollaren said.

The port also is exploring domestic shipping to other West Coast ports and expanding its barge traffic to inland states, he said. For example, the port could load logs on barges to travel along the coast or head inland along the Columbia River, O’Hollaren said.

Also, the port could start importing materials and parts such as steel paneling needed to build the wind towers and turbines if U.S. manufacturing starts to take off, Harris said.

“We haven’t waited until we saw a downturn or a flat-lining in wind,” she said.

Along the West Coast, the ports of Longview and Vancouver have emerged as the premier handlers of wind-energy cargo. In Vancouver, port officials say they haven’t pinpointed when wind-energy imports will sunset.

“It’s just too early to tell,” Port of Vancouver spokesman Nelson Holmberg said.

Wind blowing offshore?

The port’s wind energy business could reverse itself over the next few years.

Both Vancouver and Longview ports are looking to move into the export of wind energy equipment, especially with President Obama pushing for more green jobs. Over the past two years, the Port of Longview has loaded a handful of ships with wind-energy cargo manufactured stateside and bound for Asia and Europe.

“With the wind industry being a global industry, an increase in U.S. and worldwide manufacturing as well as installations will likely result in more activity for ports, back and forth, as markets continually adjust on a global basis,” said Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, a Washington, D.C.,-based trade group.

“For example, some components will eventually be exported from the U.S. to other countries as the U.S. builds up its capabilities and the president seeks to boost our exports,” she said.

Wind power capacity worldwide grew by 31 percent in 2009, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, and China accounted for about one-third of the growth. The United States accounted for about 10 percent.

About 2,000 megawatts of wind power capacity already is on line in Oregon and Washington. Over the next two decades, Western states can handle about 4,500 more megawatts of wind energy, which would power more than 1 million homes, said John Harrison, spokesman for the Portland-based Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The electricity transmission grid can’t handle much more growth that, Harrison said. To help add capacity to the system, the Bonneville Power Administration, the largest power marketer in the Northwest, is planning to build a 70-mile-long transmission line from Castle Rock to Troutdale, Ore.

Wind energy depends on the wind blowing, which is why utilities need a reliable source, such as hyrdropower, as a backup, he said.

“When the wind isn’t blowing, the dams can be turned up. When the wind is blowing, the dams can be turned down,” Harrison said.

Demand for wind energy worldwide is likely to remain high for years, but it remains to be seen where clean-energy-hungry countries will buy the equipment.

Despite all the talk of adding domestic green power manufacturing, total employment in the industry was down in 2009. Without the federal stimulus package approved last February, wind energy would have lost 40,000 jobs, according to American Wind Energy.

Denmark and Japan remain the big players in the manufacturing of wind-energy components, which bodes well for the import business at the Port of Longview.

That’s good news to Coffman, president of the longshore union. Longview is an attractive port for wind-energy manufacturers because its has a new, $4.7 million mobile harbor crane and longshoremen experienced in handling wind cargo, he said. One Longview operator developed an innovative strategy to handle the turbines with a forklift more quickly, which boosts business, he said.

“It just shows the creativity of some of our people here,” Coffman said.

Erik Olson, The Daily News –


Conservation groups want Oregon to close wind energy permitting ‘loophole’ February 2, 2010

Filed under: Legal/Courts,Oregon,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 3:44 pm
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A coalition of environmental groups is asking Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Department of Energy to close what they say is a loophole in Oregon’s renewable energy siting regulations that allows wind projects to avoid strict review.

Under state rules, if a proposed project is under 105 megawatts in size it goes through the local county to secure its land use permit. Larger projects must pass review by the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council.

Environmental groups complain that some wind developers try to game the system by splitting large projects into several smaller and adjacent projects, each under 105 megawatts, to avoid state scrutiny. (One megawatt of installed wind capacity is enough to power about 250 to 300 homes.)

“I don’t think it’s a widespread abuse, but it is an abuse,” said Liz Nysson, Climate Change Coordinator for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, one of the groups, along with the Audubon Society of Portland and Defenders of Wildlife, that today filed a petition (PDF) with the state to review the rules.

“We support responsible renewable energy development in Oregon. But it’s imperative that industrial-scale facilities not be allowed to skirt the comprehensive, public review process that the council was created to achieve,” Nysson said.

The groups say the rules at the county level, where local officials are eager to draw the jobs and revenue wind projects can bring, can be more relaxed, putting wildlife and other resources as risk.

For instance, the state recommends against building a wind turbine within three miles of a breeding site for sage grouse, a bird that could soon be added to the list of endangered species.

At the county level, our recommendations are just that,” Christian Hagen, a grouse specialist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Oregonian last year.

The state, counties and wind industry have said they are working to create standardized review rules for renewable energy projects, mainly wind. And they argue the county land use process allows the public ample opportunity to review proposed projects.

“I find it surprising that these environmental groups are unwilling to work with rural counties,” said Harney County Judge Steve Grasty. ” We’d love to have a sit down with them on this.”

Grasty said the groups are aware that county planners across the state recently completed a year-long effort to craft suggested guidelines for local review of energy projects.

“If anything, I think the counties are more strict,” he said.

Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian


Land board approves wind project near Big Timber January 20, 2010

Filed under: Montana,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 12:43 pm
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The state land board has agreed to lease land for a new wind power project near Big Timber.

The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation says that the lease covers 640 acres of state school trust land. The state will get a minimum of $21,000 a year from the lease, or more if the project is fully developed.

The Coyote Wind Farm proposes to place eight of its 44 turbines on state land. The 79-megawatt wind farm is now trying to line up contracts for the electricity.

The proposed wind farm, being built by Enerfin Energy Co., is the third major wind-power project in Montana to be approved on state land.

The land board unanimously approved the plan Tuesday.

The Associated Press –


Landowners, developers laying groundwork for community wind farm in Mont. January 18, 2010

In the lull before the storm, the monstrous turbines at Invenergy’s Judith Gap Wind Farm stood still, their blades idle. Less than 20 miles to the northwest, however, a breeze scraped across the snow-crusted benchlands.

“The wind potential is here,” said Pat McNulty, who runs cattle on the northeast end of the Little Belt Mountains. “It’s a unique wind, and it’s here most of the time.”

McNulty and about 30 of his neighbors are hoping to harvest that wind in Montana’s premiere utility-scale community wind farm. As projected, the wind farm would stretch across 55,000 acres of land in central Montana. Ultimately, its turbines would crank up to 500 megawatts of power — nearly four times the production capacity at the neighboring Judith Gap facility. Developers say the project will most likely be developed in phases of 100-plus megawatts, perhaps in several clusters of turbines, over the next five to eight years. At an estimated $2 million per kilowatt, the wind farm would have a $1 billion price tag at full buildout.

The new project — dubbed Judith Highlands Energy LLC — is yet in its infancy with no guarantee it will come to fruition. The parties involved, however, believe prospects are good and they are willing to be patient.

“This is not going to happen overnight,” McNulty said. “But we’ve been really pleased with the way this is going.”

Community wind

What sets Judith Highlands apart is not just its size, but its community-based approach. To appreciate the difference, one only has to speak with landowners who have dealt with the “gold rush mentality” that typifies some in the industry. Too often property owners have been pressed to sign sketchy contracts, offered rock-bottom lease prices and told not to compare their deal with their neighbor’s.

The community approach caught the attention of Rhyno Stinchfield and Steve Tyrrel, CEO and chief operating officer, respectively, of Billings-based Montana Wind Resources LLC. Both long-time proponents of sustainable energy, they were looking for wind development opportunities when they crossed trails with National Wind LLC.

Minnesota-based National Wind specializes in community wind development on a utility scale. The business was established six years ago and now boasts more than a dozen community wind farms in various stages of development, mostly in the Midwest.

“Nobody is doing community wind at this level,” Stinchfield said.

Stinchfield and Tyrrel welcomed the thought of working with an American company — wind development in Montana is dominated by European firms — that would keep stimulus dollars closer to home. But they were especially impressed with National Wind’s community-based model.

“The landowner has the opportunity to participate in the sale of electricity, on top of wind turbine and land payments,” Stinchfield said. “That’s what, in our minds, makes this a truly community project.”

With fewer dollars going out of state or out of country, community wind farms have a higher potential for re-injecting dollars into the local economy. A study conducted by the University of Minnesota concluded that community wind projects have five times the local value added as a corporate wind farm and create 3.4 times as many jobs. Stinchfield says his numbers indicate that roughly 20 percent of the money generated from a community wind project stays local, as compared to 6 percent for a “traditional” development.

And that’s huge, he said, when you’re talking millions of dollars in power generation each year.

“Steve and I have enjoyed working with Montana ranchers and landowners over the past several years,” Stinchfield said. “However, nothing we’ve seen yet has possessed the economic potential of Judith Highlands.”

Local representation

Long before Stinchfield and Tyrrel targeted the Garneill/Buffalo/Hobson area, landowners there had been talking with wind developers. When plans stalled for lack of agreement over contract terms, several locals weren’t willing to abandon the concept.

“We had a small group already meeting,” McNulty said. “We had been working our way up the learning curve.”

So, the potential was ripe when one of McNulty’s neighbors — an individual whose land is a part of the Judith Highlands footprint — happened upon Stinchfield and Tyrrel at last spring’s Montana Agri-Trade Exposition in Billings. He found the notion of a community wind farm appealing and his neighbors agreed.

“That community model, that’s not just a phrase,” said David Dover, who owns land within the boundary of the Judith Highlands proposal. “There’s a local board of directors, so locals get representation.”

Over the ensuing months, the small nucleus of nine landowners grew to 30. A few more may be added when more detailed wind data is in. Ranging in size from a quarter-section to 10,000 acres, their properties straddle portions of Judith Gap, Golden Valley, Fergus and Wheatland counties. In accordance with the community model, all will receive some payment, even if no turbines are placed on their land.

“Part of the fairness of that,” Tyrrel said, “is that, if your land is within the footprint, it’ll be impacted.”

Locals also like the fact that they’re encouraged to discuss among the group the details of their contracts.

“You know exactly what your neighbor signed because it’s the same for you as it is for him,” Dover said. “And we have time. They’re not pushing paper at us.”

Enough to share

Although the community model keeps dollars at home, electricity generated from Judith Highlands will almost certainly be shipped to West Coast markets.

“Montana isn’t really in need of wind power,” Stinchfield said, noting that Montana won’t have any problem meeting its 2015 target of 15 percent renewable energy. He also points out that the going rate for electricity in California is twice that in Montana.

Tyrrel counters the notion that by exporting wind power, rates for Montanans will increase.

“That’s like saying, if we export wheat, we end up paying too much for bread,” he said. “This is an export commodity and should be looked at that way.”

Above all, Tyrrel is enthused that a Montana resource has the potential to decrease the nation’s reliance on foreign energy. It’s American, it’s domestic and it isn’t influenced by international crises, he said.

“Wind has value because it cannot be affected by commodity prices, like coal and natural gas are,” he said. “Once you document a wind regime, you have a known entity that can extend out indefinitely.”

McNulty said the landowners understand that the power generated on their property will light homes and run air conditioners in Los Angeles. But it will also keep create local jobs and boost the local economy.

But, there are risks. There’s the risk that the $100,000-plus spent erecting two meteorological towers last month won’t reveal the type of wind resource they’d hoped for. There’s the risk that the presence of sage grouse or some threatened species will scuttle plans. And there are risks that financing won’t materialize, or there’ll be no way to move the energy to market.

“Basically all of the transmission in Montana has been spoken for,” McNulty said. “And as projects do happen, how much capacity can we get?”

Problems all solvable

Wind farm development may be a roll of the dice, but Gov. Brian Schweitzer believes Judith Highlands stands out from the 50-plus wind projects currently at some stage of dream-to-development in the Big Sky state.

“Some will never be built, and we never know which,” he said, applauding the community concept. “But this one looks very promising.”

Regarding transmission, Schweitzer refers to a project proposed by Grasslands Renewable Energy of Bozeman. The project would tie together wind generation from the eastern two-thirds of the state and deliver it to a hub in Townsend, from where it would be shipped to West Coast markets. If the Grasslands project is realized, it would have the capacity to export as much power as Montana currently generates, Schweitzer said.

Stinchfield admits that transmission presents the biggest hurdle, but he continues to work with transmission developers, including Carl Borgquist of Grasslands.

Regarding financing, Schweitzer commends the developers for actively pursuing Montana investors. While the state does not finance private endeavors, he said it does strive to match developers with financiers.

The Judith Highlands project represents National Wind’s second venture in the Rocky Mountain area, the first being in Colorado.



Blaine County gives nod to residential wind turbines January 14, 2010

Filed under: Idaho,Legal/Courts,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 4:01 pm
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Kim Johnson counts herself as an environmentalist who’s always seeking ways to make her Hailey home more self-sufficient and earth-friendly.

So when she started researching residential-scale wind turbines as a possible way to pull less power off the electrical grid, she was surprised to find information that turned her opinion against them.

Johnson was one of several Blaine County residents to testify before county commissioners on Tuesday afternoon, during a hearing in which commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance regulating where and how county homeowners can install wind turbines.

“This ordinance doesn’t force anybody to put up a wind tower,” said Commissioner Larry Schoen, who has investigated wind power at his own Bellevue Triangle-area ranch. He said anyone asking to put up a wind tower would be well advised to do as he did: conduct study of wind speeds over their home and do a cost/benefit analysis.

Schoen also addressed audience concerns that the ordinance — which allows some wind turbines on large properties to be approved administratively, while others on smaller parcels must go through a public conditional-use permit process — doesn’t give the public enough input.

“We have struck a fair balance,” he said, acknowledging that the county wants to encourage alternative energy use when appropriate, and to make the process easy and accountable.

Some in the audience were proponents of the ordinance, saying the existing power transmission system has serious environmental and operational weaknesses, citing last month’s Christmas outage. They argued residents should be allowed to experiment with alternatives.

Other speakers said exploring alternative energy creation was great, but that wind turbines have specific weaknesses that make them inappropriate for the county. These include the impact they would have on views, the lack of good wind in the valley, and that construction of the turbines is not an environmentally friendly process so their overall impact on the planet is negative, not positive.

“There’s so much spin around this stuff, no pun intended,” Johnson said of her research. “Sometimes what they’re touting as green sounds good, but it doesn’t make sense.”

Johnson isn’t likely to be among those who take advantage of the wind turbine ordinance, and commissioners have said interest in installing turbines has been expressed by only a few homeowners. After the ordinance has been in place for a while, they have said, they will gauge how the public has received it and consider changes to the law.

Ariel Hansen, Magic Valley News Times


Florida company pursues 100mw wind farm in Montana January 13, 2010

Filed under: Montana,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 12:59 am
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A Florida wind developer said Tuesday that he wants to build a 100-megawatt wind farm on state land in northeast Montana.

Montana has some of the best winds in the country for power generation, but development has lagged other states.

The latest proposal, from Tampa-Fla.-based Sansur Renewable Energy, is among several recently announced projects that combined could make the state among the wind industry’s top players.

Montana officials said they will solicit bids beginning Wednesday to lease about 7,300 acres of state land in Valley County at the request of Sansur.

The company’s chief executive, Suren Ajjarapu, said wind turbines could go up within two to three years if his company emerges as the successful bidder.

Finding power line capacity to move wind-generated energy to consumers has been a constant challenge for wind developers in Montana. Ajjarapu said 50 megawatts of capacity are available on a nearby transmission line and the company is looking for more.

The company wants to build a second wind power project near Chinook and is in the process of buying an existing wind farm at an undisclosed Montana location, Ajjarapu said.

Sansur, formed in 2007, is also negotiating to buy a 46.5 megawatt wind project in India, he said.

The Valley County project has the potential to become the fourth wind farm to go up on state-owned land in Montana. One, near Judith Gap, already is operational and two more are in the works near Martinsdale and Springdale.

The Sansur site is in the general vicinity of a 500-megawatt wind power proposal that failed in 2007 after environmentalists complained that it was too close to a wilderness area.

Much of that project was slated for federal land under control of the Bureau of Land Management.

The state-owned parcels eyed by Sansur are far enough away from the wilderness area that similar opposition is not expected, said Mary Sexton with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Associated Press –


Wind plan gets a ‘no’ from Kittitas County commisioners, for now December 18, 2009

Filed under: Legal/Courts,Washington,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 3:14 pm
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Although Kittitas County commissioners on Tuesday turned down a proposal to establish land-use rules for large-scale community wind energy projects, they still like the idea and want to see more work on guidelines to make it possible in rural areas of the county.

Commissioners Alan Crankovich, Mark McClain and Paul Jewell made it clear the proposal is an opportunity for rural property owners to partner with firms like Cascade Community Wind Co. LLC for high-tech economic development.

They also recognized there is wide support for the proposal from rural residents and property owners.

Commissioners also said more safeguards are needed in the land-use rules for the proposal to make the tall turbine towers more safe and compatible with surrounding neighbors and rural land activities.

The towers, although proposed to be allowed in fewer numbers and with limitations on per-acre density, can be as large as the existing Wild Horse commercial wind farm east of Ellensburg.

After discussion, commissioners agreed to deny the proposal as it currently is written and as it was recommended by the county Planning Commission.

Yet they encouraged the applicant, a county landowner and an agent representing Cascade Community Wind Co. LLC to work with county planning staff to refine the proposal in the coming months.

After the Tuesday session, Jewell said county staff has been directed to form a working group and a work plan to cooperate with the applicant to resolve several issues including setbacks from roads, homes, property lines and other structures.

Jewell said the revised community wind proposal could be resubmitted to the county by June 30, 2010, to be considered by the end of that year in the annual amendment process.

The other option is the county can administratively agree to review a new proposal through public hearings much earlier as a change in its development and zoning regulations.

Terry Meyer, the principal in the Cascade Community Wind Co. LLC, said in letters to commissioners that proposed amendments for community wind energy systems are compatible with the county’s comprehensive land-use plan and policies.

He earlier suggested that the proposal could be approved now by commissioners as a conditional use, and the county and Cascade Wind then could work on refining the proposal in the coming weeks and months.

Neil Caulkins, a county civil deputy prosecutor, said it is unlikely there is time to go through the public review process for such a change before the end of this year, and said development code changes like this and accompanying changes in the comp plan must be submitted and reviewed at the same time.

Comp plan changes, amendments

Mike Johnson, Daily Record –