Port of Vancouver Was Among First To See Wind Power’s Potential

In 1999, port officials made a strategic decision to reap the benefits of wind energy development. They went after the contract to import the wind turbines for the first large wind farm in the Pacific Northwest, the Stateline Project near Walla Walla.

Those first wind turbine components were small enough to be handled by longshore workers with ropes and swivel hooks. But today’s wind turbines are about four times the size of those early models. The port has invested $7.8 million for two giant cranes capable of handling a combined weight of 210 metric tons.

The nacelles alone, the housings that contain the brains of the wind turbines — the gear boxes, low- and high-speed shafts, generators and other equipment — weigh 92 metric tons each.

Those and other investments have paid off. In 2001, the port imported just 6,387 metric tons of energy components. Last year, it handled 101,104 metric tons — 2,600 pieces of wind energy cargo in all — shipped from manufacturers in several European and Pacific Rim countries.

Port officials would not disclose how much revenue the port has earned from the import of wind turbines over the past decade.

"We are the port with the most land dedicated to wind energy," said Alastair Smith, the port’s senior director of marketing and operations.

Among the port’s customers is the Germany-based company Siemens, which is supplying turbines for the huge Windy Point/Windy Flats project in rural Klickitat County. When completed, the wind farm project, built by Cannon Power Group of San Diego, will be one of the region’s largest.

Its wind turbines will stretch 26 miles along the crest of the Columbia Hills and will have the capacity to generate 500 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 125,000 homes.

Port officials are planning future infrastructure investments, including a dedicated rail siding that will make the port more competitive as it seeks to ship wind turbine components to customers as far away as Chicago.

The port’s location on the West Coast at the junction of two rail lines gives it an advantage as wind energy development grows along the northern tier of States and Canadian provinces in the Rockies and Midwest, Smith said.

Wind turbines from Asia take 14.5 days to arrive at the Port of Vancouver on their way to the Midwest. It takes more than twice as long to ship them across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal to the Gulf Coast.

Wind power has helped the port diversify and weather the economic crisis, which has seen reduced traffic in steel, pulp and lumber.

‘When those took a beating, the port still had wind energy cargo,’ Smith said. ‘Wind energy got us through a difficult year. 2009 was a record year for wind energy.’

The port’s investment has provided high-paying jobs for dozens of longshore workers and raised revenue for improved marine terminal facilities.

The wind giant turbine blades and tower sections awaiting shipment at the port are a favorite backdrop for politicians visiting Clark County. The tractor-trailer rigs carrying the components are a familiar site on Vancouver streets and on state Highway 14 and Interstate 84 in Oregon as they make the run east to the wide open spaces beyond the Cascades.

By Kathie Durbin, www.columbian.com