Turning point reached here on wind power

We’re number five! We’re number five! We’re number five!

By Andy Wappler

We’re number five! We’re number five! We’re number five!

Yes, that chant was heard loud and clear across the region as word came from the American Wind Energy Association (that’s “Uh-We-Uh”, kids) that our fair state is now the big number five when it comes to turning wind into electricity.

Ouch, my cheeks hurt from smiling. And the reliable, steady breeze is drying my teeth out.

No doubt, being number one (a spot occupied by Texas, incidentally) would have been cooler, but number five, well, that’s pretty spiffy, too. It’s a clear sign that wind power is more than a “someday” in Washington, it’s today.

Surprising? Probably to most of us. And I’ll admit, pretty surprising to me, at least until I began learning more about wind power.

But a real turning point has been reached. Wind power has gone from artist renderings in Popular Science to the electrical grid faster than you can say “anemometer” – which just happens to be one of my all-time favorite weather gizmo names.

So, how big are we really talking? PSE’s two wind facilities, Wild Horse in Kittitas County and Hopkins Ridge in Columbia County, now produce enough energy to serve 100,000 homes. And across the state, the wind now generates more than 1,160 megawatts of electricity, which is equal to the needs of about a quarter-million homes. That’s more than Australia and New Zealand combined, and is pretty “mega” any way you look at it.

All grown up, indeed, and growing more all the time. Good thing, too, as our area grows and grows . . . and grows.

This week, PSE announced it will be expanding its Wild Horse Wind Facility near Ellensburg, adding enough new wind turbines to serve an additional 10,000 households. Wild Horse is a pretty amazing place, and even has the largest solar project in the Northwest, too. (Kittitas is just as sunny as Houston, they tell me.)

To get an up-close gander at the future, load up the family car (someday a flying car, no doubt) and head on up over I-90 to see our new Renewable Energy Center. It’s the new visitors center at Wild Horse, on the old Vantage Highway. Built with help from Central Washington University, it puts you right on the front row of what wind and solar power are all about.

Want directions to Wild Horse? Then drop me a line at AskAndy@PSE.com.

And while you’re there, flap your arms, huff and puff – make that wind blow to do whatever it takes to catch up to Texas. Maybe next year, it will be “We’re Number One!”

Andy Wappler is a senior public relations manager at Puget Sound Energy. He joined PSE in February 2008 after being chief meteorologist at KIRO-TV. He looks forward to hearing from you at AskAndy@PSE.com