Business breezes through ports

The development of wind farms in the Northwest is providing new opportunities for area ports

A gust of business has blown into the region’s ports as they accommodate shipments of wind farm components sprouting up in eastern Washington and the Northwest. And that business may continue to grow.

In Washington alone, the Port of Vancouver reported four current wind farms and another seven proposed projects. Over an 11- to 12-week period, the port is receiving shipments of towers, wind turbines and propeller-like blades from three countries for an 83-unit wind farm at Hopkins Ridge near Walla Walla. In 2001, the port ventured into the windmill importing business with the 454-unit Stateline Wind Project along the Washington/Oregon border west of Walla Walla, the largest wind farm in the world. The Hopkins Ridge farm will produce 150 megawatts of power, enough to service 50,000 homes. The project is owned by Puget Sound Energy.

Unloading and transporting the shipment will take longshoremen and port workers 13,000 labor hours. Transporting the components 300 miles will require 650 trucks traveling about 30 miles per hour. The logistics of organizing everyone involved and meeting strict deadlines is a challenge, said Alastair Smith, senior director of marketing and operations.

“We are able to attract this business because of good cooperation from labor,” said Smith.

Meanwhile, the Port of Longview is handling shipments for its second wind farm project this year. The port is offloading windmill components for a GE Energy wind power project in Judith Gap, Mont. In May, Longview handled windmills for the second phase of the Klondike wind farm in Sherman County, Ore. The port has imported hundreds of sections of windmills since 2003, and the port hopes its experience and equipment provides a competitive advantage for handling cargo for wind projects throughout the region.

“Wind energy cargo is an important part of the port’s diversification strategy,” said Gary Lindstrom, Port of Longview director of marketing.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind energy is the fastest growing segment of the global energy industry. And it just gained a boost in the United States, as congress recently extended the Protection Tax Credit through 2007, which provides a tax credit for electricity generated by wind power projects through their first 10 years of operation.

“If this volume of wind cargo continues, we will definitely be looking at developing more storage area,” said Lindstrom.

Improvements at the Port of Vancouver have also allowed them to accept the windmill cargo, and further investment may make them more attractive.

A recent facility upgrade raised the dock’s strength to 1,000 pounds per square foot. Without the upgrade, the port would not be able to handle the weight of the 75-ton components and the 1-million-ton crane to handle the cargo, said Deputy Executive Director Todd Coleman. Adequate open space to unload and maneuver shipments is also required, as blades for Hopkins Ridge project are 140 feet long.

As a result of the weight of the shipments, it was necessary for the port in bring in a rented crane to handle the project. Port commissioners recently asked for an analysis to be conducted on the benefits of renting versus owning a higher-capacity, mobile harbor crane, considering the port’s efforts to secure business from future wind farm projects. And with the expanded tax credit, Coleman said, “There will be other power projects starting up in the Northwest, and we will be going after those projects.”