Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wind Farm Tour

I have always loved windmills. Growing up in South Dakota, there were many old farms that had windmills as part of their operation. Driving across the state, I spotted lots of them - a very scenic part of the landscape. Whenever I could convince whoever was driving to pull over, I'd photograph the old windmills.

When I had an opportunity to tour a modern wind farm, I jumped on the chance. Our local APWA chapter (American Public Works Association) sponsored a trip to a large wind farm in the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. The tour even fell on my flex Friday off - so I knew it was meant to be!

The wind farm is managed by Portland General Electric (PGE), our local electric utility company. PGE has been building windmills in the eastern end of the Gorge for several years. On my frequent trips to Missoula, Montana over the last four years, I've noticed more and more windmills popping up in north-central Oregon. Just this spring when my family was driving east on I-84, we discovered there were lots more windmills dotting the hillsides than we'd ever seen before.

It is truly amazing how many windmills there are south of Biggs, Oregon. The farmer's fields are dotted with windmills as far as the eye can see! There were hundreds, no, probably thousands, of these elegant turbines spinning in the wind.

So last Friday morning, I found myself on a bus with about 20 other APWA members on our way to Bigelow Canyon Wind Farm. After winding our way on the local roads east of Biggs and Wasco, Oregon we arrived at our destination. Steve Higgins, PGE's project Manager for the wind farm was our host. Steve patiently answered our group's many questions, toured us around the site, and showed us the maintenance facilities. But the highlight of the tour came when we actually got to walk underneath a live operating windmill!
Here's my attempt at a photograph of the windmill, looking up from near the base. It's very hard to fit it all in a camera lens. Made me wish I'd brought my wider-angle lens! It was funny to watch the other folks in our group try and photograph the windmill from this angle. I must admit, I tipped my head back so far trying to capture the windmill, that my hard hat fell off my head!

This photo shows several windmills under construction. You can see the crane used to lift the parts of the windmill into place. There were dozens of windmills under various stages of construction at this location. The interesting thing about this photo is that you can almost make out Mt. Hood through the clouds. This would be a great photo op on a clear day.

While we were hanging out at the maintenance facility, eating our lunch, a large truck arrived delivering a part of a windmill tower. The sheer size of these windmill components is much more apparent when you are standing right next to them.

At the maintenance facility PGE had erected an old windmill. It was a beauty! I think this photo is great, because it shows both old and new windmill technology.

Here's our whole group gathered under one of the windmill towers. It gives you a good perspective of the size of these wind turbines. We were told the tower itself is 80 meters tall. The blade at its lowest point is about 45 meters off of the ground.

What a great way to spend a day! I learned a lot about windmills, saw a different part of Oregon that I didn't know existed and took lots of photos. It was exciting to experience something that not everyone gets to see. Thanks to Steve from PGE and Nanci from APWA for making this tour possible.

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