Avangrid adds to its Oregon wind power line-up
Avangrid Renewables recently added to an impressive line-up of wind projects in Oregon with the start-up of its Golden Hills wind farm, the company's 11th wind project in the state.
By Robin Brunet
The creation of a large-scale wind farm is always a challenging, multi-year proposition, but the long and sometimes winding road that led to the construction of the 200-megawatt Golden Hills wind farm in Sherman County, Oregon, is remarkable even for seasoned renewable energy developers.
In fact, the successful completion of Golden Hills, which delivers enough clean electricity to Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to power 60,000 homes annually, also represents the culmination of developer Avangrid Renewables’—which is the third largest wind and solar power operator in the U.S. with 8.4 GW installed—involvement in this part of Oregon.
The Golden Hills wind farm is located near the town of Wasco, about a 90-minute drive west of Portland. The project, which includes 41 Vestas-V150 4.3 MW turbines and 10 GE-116 2.5 MW turbines, is spread across approximately 28,000 acres of grazing and wheat farmland held by 37 landowners.
Avangrid started construction on the project in May 2020 and delivered substantial economic benefits to the region during the construction phase, including the creation of 315 jobs. The project currently employs 13 full-time people and is expected to deliver over $220 million in landowner payments and local taxes over the lifetime of the project, providing a valuable source of revenue to local economies.
Golden Hills also helps PSE meet its goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while providing additional capacity to serve customers, particularly during winter periods of high electricity demand.
But that’s the tail end of Avangrid’s latest success story. The road to Golden Hills being launched is a winding one, as the company’s director of development, Brian Walsh, attests.
Walsh points out that Golden Hills really originated with Avangrid’s completion in 2001 of the Klondike 1 wind power project in Sherman County.
“Our customer was the Bonneville Power Administration, the turbines consisted of 16 GE Energy 1.5 MW turbines, and the project capacity was 24 MW,” he recalls. “The project was smooth inasmuch as the county commissioners were truly forward thinking and saw the economic benefits of wind farms in their region. They welcomed us and were gung-ho on the prospect of subsequent projects.”
More wind farms were precisely what Avangrid had in mind, considering Sherman County is outside of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Protection zone and a natural wind tunnel.
|Avangrid Renewables is the third largest wind and solar power operator in the U.S. with 8.4 GW installed.|
Hence, Klondike 2 (75 MW with 50 GE Energy 1.5 MW turbines) went online in 2005 on behalf of customer Portland General Electric; Klondike 3 (224 MW with 80 GE Energy 1.5 MW wind turbines and one Mitsubishi 2.4 MW wind turbine) went online in 2007 for Pacific Gas and Electric, in addition to PSE, Eugene Water & Electric Board, and the Bonneville Power Administration.
Finally, there was the 76.5 MW Klondike 3A project, with 51 GE Energy 1.5 MW wind turbines, which went online in 2008 for Pacific Gas and Electric, with a callback option of half the energy for Bonneville Power Administration.
“All of these installations are adjacent to each other and interconnected, with a few solar installations within, and dating back to 2002 with Klondike 1, we also had our eye on properties that would be ideal for one more wind project,” says Walsh.
Fortunately for Avangrid, one of the property owners of the farmland in question, which comprised 28,000 acres between Wasco and Moro, was John DeMoss, who Walsh credits as being another forward-thinker who keenly appreciated the economic potential of wind farms.
“John was instrumental in gathering other landowners together and fielding offers from a variety of renewables developers,” he says. “Their properties lay on the western edge of our Klondike wind farms, and I imagine the owners were responding in part to their neighbors to the east having wind farms built and reaping the rewards. They eventually struck a leasing agreement with National Wind Power.”
National Wind Power eventually sold the rights to Orion Renewable Energy Group, who in turn sold to BP Renewable Energy in 2008. “We were monitoring this closely, but we had an agreement with BP not to impact each other’s wind farms,” Walsh says.
In addition to the work Avangrid Renewables is doing on land-based wind power in the U.S., it is also involved in offshore wind power development. Through a partnership with Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, Avangrid Renewables is constructing the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in the U.S., Vineyard Wind One, off the coast of Massachusetts.
BP did not proceed with a project, and Orion once again picked up the property rights.
“Then in September 2017, we seized the opportunity to purchase the properties—but under the sales agreement we had to develop Golden Hills very quickly,” Walsh explained. “Fortunately, Bonneville Power as well as the county commissioners gave us tremendous support.”
Sadly, John DeMoss passed away before the project reached fruition, but his family continues to work their land in the area.
While Avangrid wind farms typically take up less than two percent of any given collection of properties, what was required for Golden Hills in addition to a wind energy generation facility was a power collection system, a substation, a 230-kilovolt transmission line, met towers, a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, operations and maintenance facility, access roads, and temporary laydown areas.
The Oregon Department of Energy tweaked the project proposal to increase maximum turbine blade tip height from 518 to 650 feet; increase maximum turbine hub height from 312 to 404 feet; reduce minimum above ground blade tip clearance from 65 to 46 feet; and include size and design amendments to other elements of the project.
“Further amendments resulted in what would be the tallest turbines installed in the U.S. and the biggest we’ve ever installed, which in turn necessitated more land grading,” said Walsh. “The Vestas blades are 492 feet in size.”
Avangrid has a long history with Vestas, and the two companies are located mere blocks apart in Portland.
The towers for Golden Hills were constructed in Colorado; the blades were built in Europe, arrived in the U.S. by ship, and were barged up the Columbia River and offloaded at the Port of Morrow, Oregon.
Avangrid Renewables selected Mortenson to build the 201-megawatt Golden Hills Wind Project. The scope of work included the turbines erection, access roads, public road upgrades, foundations, underground collection, and MET towers.
“From there each blade was trucked along 1-84 by flatbed, and they were so huge that the trucks couldn’t use the exit to Golden Hills,” Walsh recalls. “An exit further along the 1-84 had to be used, then the truck had to carefully double back—with the blades at one point sweeping over a gas station parking lot—to reach the installation site.”
Normally, turbine towers are built and erected in three sections, and blades are mounted to the hub on the ground with the entire assembly lifted into place. “But due to their size, our towers each consisted of five sections and the blades had to be lifted and installed on the hub one at a time, a process that required almost zero wind conditions in a region famous for its winds,” Walsh says.
Accordingly, and to abide by the fast-track conditions of the project agreement, site prep on 20 acres began in the spring of 2020, and the installation of the towers commenced in February of the following year. “We used two different contractors,” Walsh says. “Mortenson was responsible for the substation and other infrastructure, and Black & Veatch did the overhead lines.
“Starting in February meant work crews—which numbered 320 people at peak—had to deal with the cold, but the strongest winds in this region are in April, May, and June, so at least we stayed ahead of them,” he added. Known for its attention to detail, Avangrid ensured that the topsoil on the site was carefully removed, sifted for rock, stockpiled, and then ultimately returned to the site to minimize visual impact.
“It’s just one aspect of why we maintain good relationships with our farming partners,” Walsh says.
In April 2022, Golden Hills commenced operation, and Jose Antonio Miranda, Avangrid Renewables’ President and CEO, Onshore, told media: “Delivering on this project represents an important milestone for Avangrid Renewables as we continue to build on our robust portfolio of projects in the Pacific Northwest region and advance our position as a leading renewable energy developer in the U.S.”
The addition of the Golden Hills wind project increases PSE’s owned and contracted wind fleet to over 1,150 megawatts.
Since Golden Hills is a joint venture between Avangrid, Orion, and Eolian, Orion founding partner Reid Buckley remarked that they are “very pleased that another of our Sherman County projects will be providing an additional source of revenue to hardworking local farmers and ranchers and continuing to support local schools and county government through property tax payments.”
Walsh concludes that for the time being at least, his company’s wind energy involvement in Sherman County has reached a remarkable conclusion. “With all our projects combined and unrelated renewable projects in the region, all of the capacity at the John Day substation has been taken up,” he explains. “Golden Hills may be a mid-sized project in our portfolio, but it’s a memorable one for the logistics involved and what it means to Sherman County.”