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Clark PUD Nears 20-Year Deal to Buy Wind Power

by Erik Robinson
The Columbian, March 24, 2009

Vancouver, Wash. -- Clark Public Utilities is poised to make a major investment in wind energy.

The utility is considering a deal with an American subsidiary of a Japanese conglomerate developing a 63-megawatt wind energy project in Eastern Oregon. The deal with Eurus Energy America Corp. would supply about 3 percent of the power load in Clark County by the time it comes on line near Milton-Freewater at the end of this year.

In agreeing to take the 63-turbine wind farm's entire output, Clark expects it would pay $338 million over 20 years.

The utility's three elected commissioners will consider the deal today. The utility's staff is recommending approval after behind-the-scenes negotiations with developers of eight different renewable energy projects.

"This is not a done deal," utility spokesman Mick Shutt said. "We are recommending that they do it, but they do have options."

The utility sought out developers of renewable-energy projects after voters approved Initiative 937 in 2006. The law requires the state's large utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2020, after step-up requirements in 2012 and 2016.

In Olympia, lawmakers are considering a bill pulling back on those requirements.

A spokesman for the coalition that campaigned for I-937 said many utilities have already met the step-up standard for 2012.

Although wind energy has burgeoned in the Northwest, it is slightly more expensive to develop than such traditional sources of power as natural gas-fired energy plants. However, utilities can opt out if buying the power boosts rates by more than 4 percent.

"Obviously, some utilities have not made very strenuous moves toward meeting their renewable requirement," said Marc Krasnowsky, communications director for the NW Energy Coalition in Seattle. "I've been hearing developers saying, 'We really need that certainty for the standard going forward or we'll have to consider taking our investment dollars elsewhere.'"

Averaged over 20 years, Clark's wind investment would amount to about $16.9 million per year.

That amounts to a 4.8 percent increase to Clark's current $353 million annual budget for electricity, which the utility splits among fixed-price purchases from the Bonneville Power Administration, the output of its own gas-fired River Road Generating Plant and the open market.

The BPA, which provides about two-thirds of Clark County's load, is expected to raise rates in October. It is not clear how the proposed wind project would affect Clark electricity rates in the future.

"At some point, between this and Bonneville's projected increase, there is definitely pressure on retail rates," Shutt said.

Erik Robinson
Clark PUD Nears 20-Year Deal to Buy Wind Power
The Columbian, March 24, 2009

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