American Wind Week – Tour of EDPR’s Rattlesnake Road & Wheat Field Wind Farms, August 2019
By Jane Stackhouse
American Wind Week brought members of 350PDX and Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE) together for a tour of EDP Renewables’ (EDPR) Rattlesnake Road and Wheat Field wind farms in Arlington Oregon. 350PDX member Virginia Wiseman arranged for the tour. It met all of our needs: transportation, lunch, and interesting speakers.
The first thing I learned is they are wind turbines, not wind mills. Wind mills grind grain or move water while wind turbines create clean power. Operations Manager Nick Van Hollebeke showed us the monitoring system and provided details about the farms. The status of each turbine, current and projected wind conditions, and power being generated are monitored from terminals in the office.
Rattlesnake Road generates 102.9 MW (enough to power 27,000 homes). Wheat Field generates 96.6 MW (powers over 25,000 homes) and the owner still raises a wheat crop on the land. Together the farms have 95 Suzlon 2.1 MW turbines. There are 20 employees on the site to monitor and maintain the turbines. After a safety training EDPR Lead Technician Jarod Wizner and Nick took us on a tour.
These turbines are huge, about 250 feet high. (We did not get to climb the access ladder inside the tower. Special equipment, permission, and good physical condition are required.) Jarod explained that the blades turn at 15 revolutions per minute. The rotor turns gears with a 118:1 ratio so the 15 rpm become 1800 rpm and generates 2.1 MW at its maximum output. This power runs on underground cable through a transformer at the base, to a substation. There it is amplified to 230 kV (kilovolts) and sent via overhead wires into the grid.
Jarod also described several features of the turbines. The gears and generator are inside the nacelle. The technicians climb an interior ladder using safety gear to work inside and on top of the nacelle.
The wind vane, anemometer and controller atop the nacelle automatically keep the blades turned into the wind and can shut the turbine off if the wind is too strong.
- Rotating generator converts wind energy to electricity.
- Transformer increases voltage for transmission to substation.
- Substation increases voltage for transmission over long distances.
- Transmission to the grid.
As we watched the blades create energy I was aware of the sound of the wind but not the sound of the rotors until someone commented on how quiet they are. The blade tips are traveling at 150 mph and yet make only a soft swishing sound as they pass. At that rotation speed, we all wanted to know about the danger to birds and bats.
Hayley Mallen is EDPR’s Senior Environmental Associate. She described the studies that the wind farms conduct in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to measure impact on birds, bats, and other wildlife. (Studies show that house cats allowed to roam outdoors kill more birds than wind turbines.) One preventive measure is to ensure that any dead ground animals are immediately removed so flying carrion eaters are not attracted to the area. Jarod says he sees occasional bird deaths due to birds nesting on the poles and getting into the wires but not by the wind turbines themselves.
Our lunch time speakers talked about how the wind industry has been good for Gilliam County. This area has always had nearly constant wind. These two farms were built between 2008 and 2009. The land is leased from two owners, who still raise hay and wheat crops on the land. The construction jobs brought employment and revenue to local businesses because of the construction firm’s buy-local policy. The long-term maintenance jobs meant local people with mechanical and electrical aptitude could get good paying jobs (median pay is $54,000/year). Over the past ten years, the initial investment of about $659 million has resulted in about $1.9 billion spent within the state of Oregon, a total of $25.6 million in cumulative payments to local governments, and $23 million paid to local landowners. Harnessing the power of the wind has been good for the Gilliam County economy and provides clean electricity to the entire State.
American Wind Week will be back next year. I hope many of you will have the opportunity to join a tour and see clean energy generation up close. Thanks to Virginia Wiseman and all the staff at EDPR for arranging this tour.
350PDX NE Member
Nick Van Hollebeke and Jarod Wizner prepare us for a tour of Rattlesnake Road and Wheat Field wind farm with safety training. August 8, 2019.