Wind Farms & Northwest Energy Needs

Wind has quickly become one of the Northwest’s fastest growing and more important resources for generating electricity. Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. The cost of generating electricity from wind is now competitive with other energy sources, e.g.–natural gas and coal;
  2. States in the Northwest are putting a premium on generating clean, renewable energy. Called renewable portfolio standards, utilities are working toward having up to 15% of the energy resources they use come from renewable sources (not counting existing hydropower resources).
  3. Compared to other resources, wind farms can be built and investments recouped relatively quickly.
  4. With hydropower representing over 60% of the Northwest’s generating capacity, the Northwest is uniquely well suited to integrate wind power into its mix of power resources.

As this map shows, wind farms are being located in several locations where wind speeds are strong and common. At these farms, several wind turbines are grouped together. Their collective electrical output is then sent to the regional transmission grid to serve communities around the Northwest.

In 2007, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council adopted a regional plan to integrate 6,000 megawatts of wind into the region’s power grid by the early 2020s. That’s enough electricity to power 4.5 million homes annually.

Integration of wind power, however, is happening faster than planned. By the end of 2009, 3,000 megawatts will already be brought on line. And by the end of 2013, 6,000 megawatts will be integrated into the system (about ten years earlier than planned). A high proportion of these projects are located on the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge.

Maps from the Renewable Northwest Project show areas with the most potential to generate electricity. Potentially, they believe over 100,000 megawatts is available, meaning integrating wind power into our energy mix is likely to be part of our future for quite some time.

You can contact your local utility to see if they are building wind turbines and/or using electricity from wind farms to meet your community’s needs.