Local Investment, Regional Benefits
Puget Sound Energy, Washington State’s oldest local energy utility, was early to embrace renewable energy, becoming one of the Pacific Northwest’s first utilities to aquire its own wind farms. In the process they have also created a valuable resource for the local community.
The first wind project PSE invested in was the 157-megawatt (MW) Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility in Southeast Washington. Built in 2005, Hopkins Ridge was a significant project benefitting local landowners as well as PSE customers, but it was only the beginning.
In 2006, PSE started up the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility, one of the country’s largest combined wind- and solar-power generating installations. The Central Washington facility, with 127 wind turbines, was significantly larger with the capacity to produce up to 229 MW of power. With the 2009 addition of 22 more turbines, the output increased to 273 MW. Wild Horse’s solar array, installed in 2007 and 2009, is the largest utility-scale solar demonstration project in the Pacific Northwest, capable of generating 500 kilowatts of electricity.
But while the power generated is significant, those numbers fail to reflect some of the benefits of the facility on the local community that run much deeper.
Some of the environmental benefits of electricity produced by a wind project like Wild Horse are well known – no heavy pollution or greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning fossil fuels, no resource mining or transportation of fuels needed. But there is another environmental benefit at Wild Horse. In constructing the facility, PSE voluntarily created a conservation easement on the site that safeguards 7,000 acres of Central Washington’s threatened shrub-steppe habitat, and planted 6,000 sagebrush plugs. PSE developed the energy facility under a collaborative plan with local ranchers, government resource agencies, environmentalists and others committed to protecting the area’s ecosystem. Shrub-steppe is a delicate eco-system, and PSE has worked to ensure its protection for future generations.
Local Economic Benefits of Wild Horse
Wild Horse is a source of clean, renewable energy that also provides jobs, tax revenues and tourism for Kittitas County and Washington state. In addition to the numerous temporary jobs created during the construction phase, the project also employs more than 25 full-time employees. Wild Horse also pays $1.3 million in property taxes that benefit the local economy. In addition, more than 18,000 local and worldwide visitors to Wild Horse in 2008 helped boost the area’s tourism.
Wild Horse Renewable Energy Center
When PSE built Wild Horse they also anticipated that it would be a draw for tourists in the region. They also wanted the project to offer a resource to the local community. As such, part of the project included building a center for renewable energy education and project tours. The Renewable Energy Center is free and open to the public from April through November, and offers Wild Horse visitors a first-hand look at how energy can be made from the wind and sun, as well as Central Washington’s natural and cultural history. The center also provides meeting space that can be used as a resource for the local community.
Wild Horse is Just One Project
PSE is now in the process of developing the Lower Snake River Wind Energy Project in Washington’s Garfield and Columbia counties. In time, the Lower Snake River facility could produce more than 1,200 MW of wind power. PSE, which serves more than 1 million electric customers and nearly 750,000 natural gas customers, was ranked in 2009 as the second-largest utility owner of wind energy facilities in the United States, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
As of August 2010, renewable energy projects operating in the Northwest total more than 4,100 MWs, enough to power more than a million homes. Each of these projects bring economic and environmental benefits to the region by reducing our reliance on power produced from burning coal and natural gas.
Clean energy produced in the Northwest. What could be more natural?