1151 Valley Mall Parkway, East Wenatchee, WA 98802

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Wind Power

Douglas County PUD’s First Wind Project


Energy Northwest is a joint operating agency of public utility districts and municipal utilities.  Energy Northwest operates two generating stations -- the Columbia Generating Station on the Hanford Site near Richland and the Packwood Generating Station in the Cascade Mountains near Packwood, Washington. 

Energy Northwest developed a wind generation project called the Nine Canyon Wind Project near Kennewick.  Douglas County PUD’s share of the project output is 9.8 MW, or 10.23% of the output from the 95.9 MW rated project

The Nine Canyon Wind Project uses forty-nine 1.3 MW wind turbines made by Bonus Energy of Denmark and fourteen 2.3 MW wind turbines made by Siemens. The project, including access roads, turbines and pad mount transformers, covers approximately 50 acres of the 5,120-acre leasehold.  200 foot tall towers support 1.3 MW turbines with three 100-foot blades. 260 foot towers support the 2.3 MW turbines with three 148-foot blades. The turbines start producing power at wind speeds of 8 m.p.h., the optimal production speed is between 29 to 31 m.p.h. and the turbine shut down when wind speeds reach 56 m.p.h.

The power from the project, costing about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, feeds into a Bonneville Power Administration 115-kV transmission line located about 3 miles away from the wind farm. Benton County PUD provides the substation and tie line to integrate the power into the BPA system. Douglas PUD currently accepts its share, plus Okanogan PUD’s 16.61% share into the Douglas PUD load control area, which covers Douglas and Okanogan Counties.

In addition, the District is investigating the possibility of locating a wind power project in Douglas County. 

We Have Wells Dam.  We Don’t Need Windmills.  

It’s true that Wells Dam is a very economical source of clean, renewable power.  However, demand for electrical power continues to grow. Also, federal and state policy makers are beginning to require that a portion of each utility’s power supply comes from a new, non-hydro, renewable generation source. A modern wind farm that is located in a good area can generate power for about 3 ½ cents per kilowatt-hour.  That compares very favorably with other new forms of generation.  For reference, diesel generation costs between 8 and 16 cents per kwh and nuclear power costs between 11 and 15 cents per kwh. Diesel and nuclear power do not fit the new state and federal policy direction. Solar and other forms of renewable generation are more costly than wind.

Withrow Wind Project

Fall 2010: 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.

The History of Windmills

Windmills played an important role in the lives of the early settlers of the West, including those in Douglas County.  From the late 1800’s until the 1930’s and 40’s when electricity came to the farms, many of the pioneers depended on windmills to provide fresh, clean water for household needs, irrigating gardens, and watering the livestock.  The Aermotor Company of Chicago built most of these windmills.  Aermotor introduced the “mathematical” windmill in 1888.  It was the first design that used gears to reduce the rotational speed of the blades so that 3 ½ revolutions produced one stroke of the water pump.  This resulted in greater lifting power, smoother pumping action, and the ability to operate in lighter winds.  Twenty-four windmills were sold during that first year.

In 1892 Aermotor sold 20,000 windmills and they were on their way to becoming the world’s dominant windmill.  By 1904 the price of a windmill had dropped to about 1/6 of its original price – an 8-foot diameter windmill sold for about $25 and a huge 20 foot one sold for about $300.  A wide variety of accessories such as wood and metal tanks, power mills, power saws, and corn shellers were available.  In 1915 Aermotor introduced its auto-oiled windmill that had an enclosed gear case in which all the working parts were continuously bathed in lubricating oil.  This design reduced maintenance from once a week to once a year.

In 1918 the founder of Aermotor, La Verne Noyes, donated nearly two and a half million dollars to establish scholarships at many colleges and universities for veterans.  In 1919 he died with no direct heirs.  The company was left to a trust with 48 colleges and universities as beneficiaries.  Since then Aermotor has been sold a number of times.  It has diversified its product line but still sells a line of windmills and accessories.

Early wind power was famous for pumping water, but it was also used for generating electricity – mainly for powering lights and radios in rural homes.  These wind generators were known as wind chargers.  Zenith, Montgomery Ward, and Sears Roebuck made the majority of the wind chargers.  When it was windy the wind chargers produced 6, 12, or 32 volt DC power.  The power was stored in batteries for times when the wind was calm.

How Much Wind Does it Take? 

The early Aermotor windmills needed winds of about 3 miles per hour to start pumping water.  Modern wind turbine generators built for electric power production start producing at about 7 miles per hour.  The mile per hour of wind needed for production is called the cut-in speed.  The cut-out speed, or the maximum wind speed the wind turbine can produce at, is about 54 miles per hour.   One hundred thirty four miles per hour is the speed of wind that will tear the blades off the turbine, or the survival speed.

Wind farms for electrical power generation are being built at locations where winds average as low as 14.5 mph.  However, the power output increases exponentially as the wind increases.  This means that small increases in wind speed result in substantial increases in power output.  Wind sites that average 17 to 20 mph winds are very desirable. 

If a wind turbine generator that is rated at 1.0 MW was built in a place that was so windy that it produced its rated output all the time it would have a capacity factor of 100%.  More typically, the wind blows sporadically.  If the same machine produced an annual average of 300 KW for the year then it would have a capacity factor of 30%.  A capacity factor of 32% is considered very good, but the higher it is the better. 

How do those blades work?   

The blades of a 1.0 MW turbine are each about 92 feet long and the hub height is about 197 feet.  The cut-in wind speed is 7 mph but it takes a wind speed of 29.1 mph to produce the rated output of 1.0.  When the wind speed gets strong enough a computerized controller starts the turbine.  If the wind dies down, blows too hard or if there is a malfunction the computer will shut the turbine down. The computer controls the yaw, or side to side movement, of the turbine head so it always faces directly into the wind.  As the wind speed changes the pitch of the blades is constantly adjusted to keep the turbine operating at peak efficiency.  In addition, the computer constantly monitors the machinery, stores operating data, and generates alarms when things aren’t right.