Building Oregon's Energy Future

Story by Shelley Parker | September 28, 2010

Remarkable transformations are occurring high on the hills east of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. As cows roam and crops grow, the wind blows — and it blows. It's the unique location, topography and climate that make the majestic rolling hills of the Oregon Gorge an ideal setting for wind farming.

When it comes to renewable energy, the Pacific Northwest continues to lead the nation. From solar to wind and beyond, the region has made significant advancements in a relatively short period of time, and the members of Operating Engineers Local 701 say they are proud to be a part of it.

"Renewable energy work in the region has grown exponentially in the last few years," said Nelda Wilson, assistant business manager for Local 701. "Keeping our journeymen working is always a priority, and work in this sector is especially welcome. Contributing to renewable energy is rewarding."

In September, Local 701 had 55 journeymen at eight different wind farm sites — Willow Creek, Pebble Springs, Rattlesnake, Wheatland, Hay Canyon, Biglow, and Three Mile Canyon. The work ranges from development of new roads to massive crane operations needed to erect the 282-foot-tall towers and place the turbines, with their 120-foot blades, on top to catch the wind. Onlookers gain respect for seasoned equipment operators as they watch the precision needed to gracefully erect windmill components as large as 80 tons in the unpredictable windy conditions.

A Priority on Safety

Safety is always top of mind and especially critical on wind farm project sites, where the heaviest and most powerful equipment including 600-ton cranes are used. The Operating Engineers' comprehensive five-year apprenticeship program involves both textbook and also hands-on training. The program is turning out many journeymen who look forward to a chance to work on new renewable energy construction.

Dan Clifton, a 27-year journeyman, has worked on a variety of wind projects in Oregon and California.

"I've worked on hundreds of projects over the years," said Clifton. "Having a hand in these wind farm developments is exciting. I hear a lot of talk about what's not getting done with alternative energy, but I'm out here getting it done."

From soup to nuts, each windmill requires approximately 300 work hours to install. This includes the transportation infrastructure necessary to access a new site. The life expectancy of each windmill is 20 years, and each will power up to 100 homes. Like solar power, wind technology continuously evolves, allowing for better efficiencies and output.

You don't have to be a construction tradesman or engineer to appreciate the significance of these technological advancements. Looking across miles of picturesque golden plains beneath a flawless blue sky, hundreds of strategically positioned windmills somehow complement the landscape perfectly. They create a mesmerizing feeling of peace that slowly turns into a warming sense of hope.

It's a nice realization to see the results of innovation and hard work by people who are committed to advancing our energy independence through renewable sources. n

Author Information
Shelley Parker is an Oregon writer with Pac/West Communications.