World's largest wind farm is California's white knight

1 June 2001

The construction of a power station-sized windfarm in the USA suggests that wind power is now marketable and profitable, rather than merely an exotic alternative. And some of the impetus is coming from customers.

The largest single wind generating development in the world, 300 MW of it, is currently being built on the Oregon/Washington border. FPL Energy (Florida Power and Light) will build, own and operate the new wind farm, on both sides of the border near Walla Walla. PacifiCorp, through its non-regulated subsidiary PacifiCorp Power Marketing (PPM), will purchase the entire energy output over a 25 year period for marketing to customers in the western USA.

The Stateline project, when fully operational, will consist of more than 450 wind turbines, capable of producing 300 MW of electricity, scattered over a large area of private land, most of it farmland. Stateline is located on hilltops and ridges south of US Highway 12 between the towns of Touchet and Wallula. The site is close to existing transmission lines owned by PacifiCorp and BPA, which reduces the need to install new lines.

It will make PPM the leading supplier of renewable resources in the Pacific Northwest. FPL Energy is the largest developer and operator of wind energy facilities in the USA with more than 1000 MW of wind turbines in operation or construction in seven states, and plans to add a further 500-1000 MW to this portfolio. The company also owns and operates the 24.9 MW Vansycle wind facility (pictured above) adjacent to the Stateline site.

New higher efficiency wind turbine designs and the rising price of gas have started to render wind power a viable resource in current energy markets. At a time when the western USA is experiencing critical supply constraints, renewable energy can provide a basis for a future where utilities may be looking to more environmentally friendly generation options. Certainly wind turbines can get from concept to power-on-line far more quickly that coal or nuclear stations. And state governors are not immune to the vote winning power (to judge by the numbers prepared to sign up to green tariff deals) of green projects.

Stateline will be an economic boost to rural Washington and Oregon, which is primarily wheat country. Located principally on private farmland, the project will provide lease income to farmers and ranchers while leaving land available for crops. It is estimated the project will create around 150 construction jobs with a peak need of 350 workers and for ongoing operations provide eight to 15 full-time jobs and four to seven part-time jobs.

Permitting process

Construction started in February on the Washington side of the project, which amounts to two thirds of projected capacity, and received its permits last November from the Walla Walla planning commission. Permit applications were filed with the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council in January, and that process is not yet finalised, but with equipment already on site the company will be in a position to begin construction on the Oregon portion immediately following approval.

Progress towards an end-2001 start is on schedule. To date some of the connecting infrastructure of roadways has been constructed. Next will come tower foundations and electrical interconnections: the first turbines will arrive on site around end-June. But a new substation will not be needed although it will necessary to extend an existing substation.

Environmental impact

Approval for the Washington portion followed a rigorous review process and a full Environmental Impact Study, which included thorough avian, botanical and cultural resource studies . Additional spring and autumn night bird migration studies will be conducted to determine the location of some turbines. Once in operation, the project will monitor avian and bat impact though a programme approved and periodically reviewed by a technical advisory committee consisting of scientists, representatives of government agencies, local landowners, environmentalists and FPL Energy.


The project will use 450 Vestas wind turbines rated at 660 kW manufactured by Vestas-American Wind Technology, based in California, with a total maximum output of 300 MW. Each tower will be 242 feet tall, including the blades. Each turbine blade is 77 feet long, so the diameter of their rotating pathway is 154 feet. The tubular steel towers are 14 feet in diameter. Electronic control systems point turbines into the wind and adjust the pitch of the blades to make the best use of wind at any speed. The turbines cut in at a wind speed of 7 mph and shut down at 56 mph. The high speed automatic shut down is a protective feature, allowing the turbines to survive storm winds up to hurricane-force.


PacifiCorp serves 1.5 million customers with electricity in six western states. FPL Group’s principal subsidiary, Florida Power & Light Company, serves 3.9 million customer accounts in Florida. FPL Energy LLC, FPL Group's independent power production subsidiary, is a leader in generating electricity from ‘clean’ and renewable fuels.

PPM will take delivery of power at the project and market it throughout the west. Energy will be delivered to the grid via Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and PacifiCorp transmission lines. Hydropower is seen as a good fit for wind energy. Through proposed agreements, BPA and other utilities will supply hydropower and associated services to PPM to "shape" the variable wind energy, thereby creating “a variety of energy products” that can be used reliably by end-use customers. This is code for a green tariff, similar to the Blue Sky tariff already marketed by Pacificorp for which they have already signed up a substantial customer base, making a substantial cash contribution to the viability of renewables projects. PPM is also in discussions with BPA to purchase up to 40 per cent of Stateline's output on behalf of BPA customers.

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