Washington state wind farm adds another 22 turbines

 Puget Sound Energy’s Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility is now producing even more energy from the gusty breezes and bright sunshine of Kittitas County, thanks to 22 additional wind turbines that entered commercial operation today. The new wind turbines join the facility’s original 127 turbines, which entered service in December 2006, and raise its capacity to produce clean, renewable power from the wind. In addition, the Wild Horse solar array, already one of the largest in the Northwest, is also expanding with 315 made-in-Washington solar modules totaling 50 kilowatt (kW) of capacity being added to its present 450 kW of generating capability.

“Renewable energy works in Central Washington, and it’s exciting to see Wild Horse grow,” said Kimberly Harris, executive vice president and chief resource officer for PSE. “The wind and sun of Kittitas County are tremendous natural resources, and by harnessing these resources we can benefit the environment by generating clean power and also boost the local economy of Ellensburg, Cle Elum and Central Washington.”

PSE, which is already the nation’s second-largest utility owner and operator of wind power according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), built on the success of the existing 127-turbine Wild Horse Wind Facility by raising its capacity from 229 megawatts (MW) to 273 MW through the installation of 22 new turbines each with a capacity of 2 MW. According to AWEA, 273 MW equals the approximate energy needs of 70,000 average U.S. homes.

The Wild Horse wind facility is located at an elevation of 3,500 feet on Whiskey Dick Mountain, a little more than 16 miles east of Ellensburg, on the north side of Interstate 90. Initial development of the expanded wind site began in 2008 with construction taking place in the spring and summer of 2009. Testing and commissioning of the new wind turbines was completed in October 2009.

The solar facility, located at the highest point within the wind facility at an elevation of some 3,800 feet, entered service in August 2007. With the added photovoltaic (PV) solar modules (which convert sunlight directly into electricity), the solar array becomes the launch customer for the first made-in-Washington equipment of its type. Produced by Silicon Energy of Arlington, Wash. the new Wild Horse solar modules are the first PV modules made in the state, and will soon be available to area residents for use in their home or business solar systems, including those connected to the PSE grid via the utility’s net-metering and production metering programs.

These programs allow customers with solar systems to gain credits from the utility as well as cash payments from the State of Washington based on the energy produced by their system. Because a local manufacturer is now in operation, residents are now eligible to receive higher payments than before, with the state program reserving the highest level of payout to those with systems including Washington-made solar modules. The expanded solar array is slated to enter service by the end of November.

With the addition of the new wind turbines and solar modules, the facility’s ability to produce energy has increased, along with its positive impact on the local economy and tourism. Wild Horse features the Renewable Energy Center, a unique visitor’s facility that has been enjoyed by nearly 40,000 people since opening in April 2008.

“Wild Horse has been a success both in terms of producing clean energy from the wind and sun, but also in educating people about how these technologies can work as effective resources for safeguarding the environment and offering sustainable, long-term opportunities for the community,” said Harris.

The Renewable Energy Center offers visitors a hands-on chance to see how wind and solar power operate, and to learn about the natural history and culture of the Kittitas Valley. The center is the first building in Central Washington to be awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification for new construction from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

The REC is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. until Nov. 30, weather permitting, and will reopen following a closure for the winter in early April 2010. The center is located just north of Interstate 90, approximately 16.5 miles east of Ellensburg, at 25901 Vantage Highway. Driving directions and maps to the center can be found at PSE.com.

Washington state’s oldest local energy utility, Puget Sound Energy serves more than 1 million electric customers and nearly 750,000 natural gas customers in 11 counties. A subsidiary of Puget Energy, PSE meets the energy needs of its growing customer base through incremental, cost-effective energy conservation, procurement of sustainable energy resources, and far-sighted investment in the energy-delivery infrastructure. PSE employees are dedicated to providing great customer service and delivering energy that is safe, reliable, reasonably priced, and environmentally responsible.