Turbines go up to keep prices down

Check out my quotes near the end of the article!

Reprinted from The Chinook Observer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Standing like powerful monoliths, the new wind turbines installed above Grayland last week reach 450 feet above sea level. (photo by Nancy Butterfield)


GRAYLAND - Tall as ancient sequoias, the four brand-new wind turbines above the cranberry bogs in Grayland loom over the landscape like invaders from space. But, as of about June 1, these "invaders" will begin providing help for the low-income residents of Pacific and Grays Harbor counties.

The one-of-a-kind, $5.5 million project has been in the works for more than eight years, and required huge amounts of work by many partners to complete financing, permitting and construction of the 1.5-megawatt GE turbines.

The venture is "a social service project that happens to use a renewable resource to supplement CCAP's low-income project," Craig Dublanko, chief financial officer of Coastal Community Action Program, the sponsor of the venture, said.

"For an area struggling with double-digit unemployment, the timing for completing the project couldn't have been better," he said. "We're looking at putting a lot of money back into the two counties to help people with housing, energy and food. Our goal is to meet their needs." CCAP is based in Aberdeen with an office in South Bend.

"The turbines are made in the U.S. and I think they're the best turbines in world," Dublanko said. At 450 feet above sea level, the towers straddle the county line and can withstand winds of up to 183 miles per hour. He said the project is the first of its kind on the Washington coast and, as far as he knows, the first alternative energy plan in the country to benefit low-income programs.

Dublanko, 38, has been with CCAP for about 11 years and is truly a Southwest Washington local. He grew up in Aberdeen, graduated from St. Martin's College in Lacey and says he "chose to come back to the area and raise a family. We're committed to the community and want it to do well."

One of the local partners CCAP has worked with is the Greater Grayland Neighborhood Association. "They're really strong supporters," Dublanko said. The local community was "very supportive of the project. We got a lot of positive feedback with very little, if any, negatives. We're proud of that." As project director, he said, "I know a whole lot more about wind power than I did when I started. I learned a lot and I'm thrilled it's nearly complete."

The first financial break came when Washington State Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam urged the Legislature to approve a $5 million grant for the project. "He's responsible for getting the funding on board," Dublanko said. "Hargrove pushed for the money. The governor signed on to it and we were able to leverage the money to get low-income tax credits combined with energy tax credits to help finance the project. We had a vision and we just ran with it. It's a complex financial structure."

ShoreBank role

A big part of that structure was a joint new-market tax credit investment project between Ilwaco-based ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia and Wells Fargo Bank, according to John Berdes, president and CEO of ShoreBank, the country's first community development and environmental bank holding company.

"Craig [Dublanko] is the hero of this project," Berdes said. "If not for him, this wouldn't be happening.

"Our message is simply that we were attracted to this opportunity because it exemplifies what we think is possible for rural communities and renewable energy," Berdes said last week. "What's really meaningful is that the windmills themselves are owned by the community, because CCAP is a non-profit social service agency that exists to serve the needs of low-income people in the two counties."

And, since the power generated will be purchased by Grays Harbor PUD, a community-owned utility, Berdes said "the cash flow resulting from coastal winds turning those blades will benefit low-income families by supporting the delivery of those services. It's a rural-coastal closed loop. We're retaining value in the community by utilizing a new kind of natural resource. That's what's so compelling for us."

"ShoreBank was involved since the early stages," Dublanko said. "They're one of many partners and we couldn't have done it without them. We're lucky to have them."

Windmills assembled

Last week, workers from KR Wind, an international company with U.S. headquarters in Texas, were washing down the third piece of the last 328-foot tower before lifting it into place and adding the nacelle, which houses the generators, and three 120-foot-long blades. The nacelle alone, Dublanko said, weighs 120,000 pounds and is the size of a small motor home. Each tower section weighs 60,000 to 70,000 pounds. KR Wind employees routinely enter the towers through a submarine-type door at the bottom and climb a ladder to the top for maintenance and inspection. Schermer Construction of Aberdeen did all the civil work, Dublanko said.

GE has more than 13,000 wind turbines operating worldwide and, according to its Web site, the type of towers in Grayland "continue to be one of the world's most widely used wind turbines in their class."

Now that the towers are up, the interconnection with the Grays Harbor PUD is expected to be complete by mid-May and the switch will be flipped to connect to the main grid on about June 1.

Dublanko said the project will generate $500,000 per year for CCAP to help local low-income families for the life of the project - more than 20 years. He said he's hoping the project will create a model that can be reproduced in other communities to help them become more self-sufficient in their low-income programs.

"I really want to emphasize that this is a social project that just happens to be using renewable energy. We had a really good idea that became a reality when Hargrove and the Legislature stepped up on our behalf. There's a long list of people who played a role in this," he said, with "many people doing great things. It takes a very progressive board of directors to be wiling to take on project like this." CCAP's annual budget is about $7 million.

Seaview board member

Nan Malin, of Seaview, a CCAP board member, says she's enthusiastic about the project because "there are lots of seniors who take advantage of the program and need it. It's a really good example of how a creative idea can help low-income people. We're the only non-profit with a mission to fight poverty that has a program like this and we're one of the first to use the new energy tax credits. We hope this can be a model for other community action boards."

There are about 1,000 Community Action agencies serving the poor in every state, Puerto Rico and the Trust Territories. They're dedicated to enhancing the quality of lives of individuals, families, the elderly, children and youth and people with disabilities. CAAs are nonprofit private and public organizations established under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 to fight America's War on Poverty.

"People don't understand that CAAs are everywhere across the country," Malin said. She explained that she serves on the 18-member tripartite board - one-third from the government sector, one-third private enterprise and one-third from the low-income sector. The board decides how to spend funds to fight poverty.

"It's very fulfilling to serve on the CCA board," Malin said. "I enjoy the board's professionalism and energy. It's the best run, most efficient board I've ever served on. I really appreciate that our money is being used efficiently and is going to the people who really need it. It's great to have a free-enterprise solution to funding poverty-fighting programs. Pacific County will directly benefit from the wind-power income and we'll be seeing an impact on the Peninsula by partnering with programs here and flow the funding through to them. I hope it paves the way for using alternative energy sources in Southwest Washington."

Berdes said that "our heritage is still alive with logging and farming and fishing, but this adds a new economic segment to the coastal economy. It's a partnership between a non-profit and a bank investing in a non-profit that in turn invests in the community. That's why ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia gets up in the morning. This is what we mean by 'change the world.' The real excitement for us is that this whole new sector of a rural economy, is, in addition to heritage industries that are ongoing and a source of good jobs, this new sector with CO2 and clean energy presents huge opportunities for rural communities to add a leg to our stool."

Another goal of the wind project is to "stimulate a little more traffic for the businesses in the Grayland area," Dublanko said. "We're hoping people will come to see the turbines and maybe help out local restaurants and other businesses. Lots of people go to Ocean Shores and it's just a short drive to the turbines. It will only help the area."

For a closer look at the project, KING-5 News had a story and video on its Web site last week at (www.tinyurl.com/yafte2w).
Workers assisting with the installation of the new wind turbines in Grayland are dwarfed by the rotor blades being prepared for connection to their windmills stalks. (photo by Nancy Butterfield)