Portland Expands on Wind

On Thursday Portland General Electric Co. (PGE) announced plans to purchase development rights to the

Rock Creek Wind Farm in Gilliam County, Oregon. The wind farm, scheduled to begin construction in 2013 or 2014, will have the capacity to produce 400 to 550 megawatts. That is enough energy to power, depending on wind variability, 125,00 homes. At present, 9% of PGE's electricty is supplied from renewables, but this development indicative of changing mindsets and changing strategies.

The proposed project is currently owned by Renewable Energy Systems America Inc. (RES Americas). RES Americas operates nearly 3,900 Megawatts of wind power capacity (10% of all the currently available wind power in the country) at sites across the country and have another 12,500 Megawatts in development.

According to PGE Vice President of power operations and resource strategies Jim Lobdell, "good renewable sites are highly sought after, so we are pleased to have reached preliminary agreement on certain terms with RES Americas and look forward to working with them in the coming months to see if we can arrive at a final agreement that serves our customers' best interests."

In addition to generating wind power, the proposed 68,000 acre site would also be available for agricultural and other uses. This is an important aspect of the project, because it counters part of the NIMBY argument as the land could still serve a useful purpose locally.

Shifting to wind is important. It not only helps large cities like Portland, but can be beneficial on a small scale to specific communities, like Portsmouth or Block Island. Additionally, it allows the rural areas where projects like the Rock Creek Wind Farm are located to remain focused on a pivotal part of their economy - agriculture. With a technology like solar, this isn't possible. There are some drawbacks, though.

First, to use wind power now, PGE charges an additional $3.50 per month for each 200kw hours used. Despite the addition of the Rock Creek Farm, PGE gives no indication that will change. This means that wind power will remain more of a luxury than a practical alternative for residents of Portland.

Second, the project is expensive, time-consuming, and skirts some current Oregon laws. Normally PGE would have to go through a bidding process that proves buying the Rock Creek Farm from RES Americas is cheaper than, say, constructing their own farm. PGE claims that timeliness is an important factor in necessitating that "skirt". Unfortunately, they long-term benefits of following the Oregon law may not be known due to the necessity for PGE to take hold of a profitable opportunity.

Nonetheless, PGE's acquisition of the Rock Creek Wind Farm is more or less a step in the right direction. Just like the Nissan Leaf, wind power's extra cost doesn't make it a bad idea. The more and more people use it, the more available it will become and at some point, that cost will go down. Achieving a diversified energy grid is a necessity, and this project takes a step towards achieving that goal (even if it does have its drawbacks).

What do you think of this development? Is this simply a business move for PGE? Should they have to go through the regular bidding process? Is wind energy the way of the future or a dying technology? Share your thoughts below...

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