Due to the overabundance of wind power developed in the region during the past few years, and with more on the way, the District has chosen to put the Withrow Wind Project on hold for the time being. Unfortunately, generation of electricity with wind provides an intermittent energy resource. The wind blows primarily in the spring, at the same time snow is melting, rivers are running full, and hydroelectricity is abundant. This is also the time when adult salmon and steelhead begin to return to the rivers and Washington State has imposed water quality standards that can easily be violated if water is spilled at Columbia River dams instead of being used to generate electricity. Wind generator operators are reluctant to shut generators down because federal incentive payments are based on actual energy production. In essence, hydro operators are forced by regulations to compensate other parties who will take electricity during these times of low demand and abundant supply. Under these conditions, it does not make sense to add more wind power to the mix. Perhaps new energy storage technologies will make a wind project more practical in the future.
Here is a recap of work done in preparation for a possible Withrow Wind Project.
The District has been studying and measuring wind conditions in Douglas County since 2001. After narrowing the possible wind project locations to Withrow (an area northeast of Waterville), Douglas PUD has been working with land owners and state and federal agencies to find an economically viable site plan for a wind project.
The initial site plan for the Withrow Wind Project placed 106, 1.5 megawatt wind turbines in a 17,000 acre area, creating a 160 megawatt capacity. It also encompassed numerous private property parcels and state lands, while straddling both sides of State Route 172. Unfortunately, the original area studied, which has the best wind potential, encompassed sage grouse leks, or breeding grounds. Sage grouse are a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act. To avoid unintended consequences of a wind project, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) requested the District move the wind project location entirely to the west of State Route 172 where there are no known leks and the ground is predominately cultivated and not suitable as sage grouse habitat.
The new site plan encompasses approximately 4,500 acres west of State Route 172, of which most of the land is cultivated. The revised site plan would include 28, 2.5 megawatt wind turbines, yielding a 70 megawatt capacity project as an economically viable site plan. The proposed location is near the District’s high voltage transmission line, making it ideal for getting the power to the northwest electric system.
The spring and summer of 2010 was busy with continued environmental studies and inventories being conducted. WDFW is conducting preliminary sage grouse surveys within the revised project boundary. If the project continues, this study will cover a five year study period to determine if the Withrow Wind Project has any affect on the resident sage grouse population in the Withrow area.
Additional studies conducted on-site included: surveying for and documenting any rare, threatened or endangered plant species within the disturbed areas of the project, surveying for Washington ground squirrels, conducting preliminary engineering and design work for road and turbine locations, inventorying and assessing view corridors within proximity of the project, and numerous other studies related to environmental review, permitting and preliminary engineering phases of the project.
Wind remains an untapped source of energy in Douglas County. The Pacific Northwest and the nation will likely face an ever-increasing demand for electricity, preferably produced from domestic and renewable sources of energy. The District wants to help meet this demand when practical by providing clean and renewable energy development from resources that are available locally. This is consistent with the District’s longstanding practice of providing clean, renewable hydro power. Development by the District would ensure control over this type of resource stays in the hands of the citizens of Douglas County.
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