Exploring the power of wind energy

Wind turbines at the Wild Horse Wind Facility. Photo Courtesy of Puget Sound Energy

October is Sustainability Month at Bellevue College, and many students are becoming involved in the push for cleaner energy in Washington. Thirteen students toured the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility in Ellensburg on Tuesday, Oct. 18 to learn about wind energy and sustainability. Washington is one of the leading states in terms of green energy.

A group takes a tour of the Wild Horse Wind Facility. Photo Courtesy of Puget Sound Energy
A group takes a tour of the Wild Horse Wind Facility.
Photo Courtesy of Puget Sound Energy

The Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility is one of the three major wind farms in Washington. According to the Puget Sound Energy website, “Our three current wind facilities produce up to 773 megawatts of electricity, enough to meet the power demands of nearly 200,000 homes, making us the second-largest utility generator of wind power in the U.S.” In addition to Puget Sound Energy’s contribution to a more sustainable future, the Department of Energy’s Wind Vision Scenario project hopes to power 927,000 homes with wind power by 2030. According to Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, “American wind power is well on its way to supplying 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030.”

Wildflower Walk at Wild Horse Wind Facility. Photo Courtesy of Puget Sound Energy
Wildflower Walk at Wild Horse Wind Facility.
Photo Courtesy of Puget Sound Energy

Transitioning from oil and coal to wind is not only cost efficient, it creates jobs, giving back to the community and the world. According to the American Wind Energy Association, “An investment in wind power is an investment in jobs, including jobs in operations and maintenance, construction, manufacturing and many support sectors. In addition, wind projects produce lease payments for landowners and increase the tax base of communities.” Wind energy may be expensive to implement but pays for itself over time, as do other sources of renewable energy.

Wind turbines. Photo Courtesy of Puget Sound Energy
Wind turbines.
Photo Courtesy of Puget Sound Energy

Many businesses are also transitioning towards cleaner energy thanks to Ballot Initiative 937, also known as the Clean Energy Initiative. This initiative mandates that electrical companies servicing 25,000 customers or more must obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources. To further encourage the use of wind energy, Washington State offers tax breaks to businesses and corporations.

Wind turbines. Photo Courtesy of Puget Sound Energy
Wind turbines.
Photo Courtesy of Puget Sound Energy

Even with the financial incentives and laws, the upfront costs of renewable energy make it unavailable to many consumers. According to Windustry, a wind turbine having a 10 kilowatt capacity – enough to power a large home – would cost between $50,000 and $80,000, assuming there was space for a turbine. A commercial-scale turbine, with a 2 megawatt capacity would cost $3-$4 million fully installed, including permits, consultants and other costs. In contrast, Seattle City Light estimates that solar panels for a standard 3 kW residential installation would cost $9,000 to $15,000 installed. According to SolarNation.org “it takes about six years for solar power systems to pay for themselves in Washington.”

Students interested in learning more about wind and solar energy are encouraged to take a free tour of the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and Renewable Energy Center. No reservation is needed, but it is preferable to call the facility to arrange for larger groups.

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