Avista Corp. will delay building a wind farm south of Reardan by at least two years, citing the high cost of the wind turbines.
“This stuff is really expensive,” said Hugh Imhof, a spokesman for the Spokane-based utility. “Why build a $125 million wind farm if we don’t need it for another two years?”
The windmills – now targeted for operation at the end of 2013 – are slated for a gusty ridge five miles south of Reardan. They’ll be part of Avista’s first wind-generation project, though the utility has been buying credits from a wind farm on the Oregon-Washington border for several years.
In 2006, Washington voters passed a law requiring utilities to get 15 percent of their power from new, renewable energy sources – such as wind and solar – by 2020.
“We know the future is moving that way,” Imhof said. Over the next decade, Avista plans to acquire about 300 megawatts of electricity generated by wind. But in the short term, there are cheaper ways to add new, renewable energy to Avista’s portfolio, Imhof said.
Avista is in the midst of retrofitting turbines at the utility’s Noxon Rapids Dam on the Clark Fork River. The upgrades will cost the utility $48 million and boost the dam’s output by 28 megawatts, which is enough electricity for 21,000 homes. Imhof said the dam’s increased output qualifies as new, renewable energy, and it comes at less than half the cost of the Reardan wind farm.
The turbines near Reardan will have the capacity to produce 50 megawatts of power, enough for 37,500 homes. But the variability of wind speeds reduces the turbines’ overall output.
“Wind is a great resource, but it has to be backed up with other power sources,” said John Harrison, a spokesman for the Northwest Power Planning Council in Portland. “That’s because of the variable nature of the fuel supply.”
About 3 percent of the electricity used in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana comes from wind generation. But the wind doesn’t always blow.
During eight days this month, wind turbines across the Northwest idled during clear, calm days. “There was zero wind power,” Imhof said.
The wind blows less during extreme hot and cold temperatures, when customers crank up the air conditioning or turn up the thermostat to stay warm, Imhof said.
But utilities still view wind as a viable option. More than 40 new wind facilities are planned or under construction in the Northwest, according to the Northwest Power Planning Council.
The rush to add wind-generating capacity is one of the reasons behind the high cost of building new facilities, according to Imhof. Over the past five years, the cost to build a wind farm has doubled, he said.