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Major Ore. wind project upgrades take big steps forward

Caithness Energy LLC has obtained favorable recommendations from the Oregon Department of Energy for repowering its three major Shepherds Flat wind projects. The project developer also has won approval from the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council for one of those wind farms on the Columbia River.

The three projects together have a total of 338 wind turbines, almost all of which Caithness wants to upgrade by replacing existing blades with longer ones and changing out turbine components. The projects, which according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data Caithness co-owns with General Electric Co., Sumitomo Corp. of Americas and Google LLC, were just placed into service in 2012, but turbine technology has advanced rapidly since then.

The siting council, the final state authority for approving power plants and other major energy facilities in Oregon, is slated at its Jan. 23-24 meeting to consider the Oregon energy department's proposed orders on the repowering of wind turbines at the Shepherds Flat Central (South Hurlburt) and Shepherds Flat South (Horseshoe Bend Wind) facilities. During its meeting Dec. 19-20, 2019, the siting council approved as final the energy department's proposed order for repowering Shepherds Flat North (North Hurlburt).

The repowering projects would not change the facilities' footprints, which together extend across more than 32,000 acres in Gilliam and Morrow counties. The projects also would not expand the generation capacities of the wind farms, which total 845 MW.

However, the proposed upgrades would change the wind turbine blade tip height from 135 to 150 meters and replace old turbine components with modern, more technologically advanced equipment. The upgrades will increase the efficiency of the facilities by generating electricity even when winds are light and variable. This will enable the wind farms to operate over longer periods and thereby increase the facilities' annual output, according to the state energy department's proposed orders.