The plant features a 300-megawatt wind farm made up of 120 turbines. These began operation at the end of 2020, when the first phase of the project was complete. A 50-megawatt solar facility—the largest in Oregon—went into operation this year alongside a battery storage system capable of holding up to 30 megawatts. Together, Portland General Electric (PGE) says these elements can power about 100,000 residences.
Though the US and its neighbors have utilized solar and wind farms for a few decades now, the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility is the first on the continent to combine these technologies with battery storage to create a “hybrid” plant. This energy storage system is vital to Oregon’s goal of shifting away from fossil fuels. Under a law passed last year, all electricity sold in the state must be greenhouse gas emissions-free by 2040. Solar and wind energy, though preferable for environmental reasons, are not reliably consistent; nighttime puts solar facilities on pause, while wind farms don’t exactly benefit from still days. Utility companies have traditionally burned fossil fuels to fill these gaps, but with its massive lithium batteries, this plant can keep 120 megawatt-hours of backfill energy on hand and supply it to utility customers during slow periods.
Just in time, too: Oregon demolished its last coal plant last month. The 40-year-old Boardman smokestack hadn’t been used for over two years thanks to the state’s recent reliance on fuel-burning facilities, but its destruction caused a bit of anxiety among those who appreciated coal’s contribution to the labor economy. PGE says Wheatridge Renewable created about 300 jobs during construction, but the plant only employs 10 full-time staff. Many hope the number of people employed by clean energy facilities increases as tax credits and other financial incentives boost the number of wind and solar farms supporting the energy grid.
“It’s because of projects like Wheatridge that Oregon is leading the way in growing our clean energy economy,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown when the plant was commissioned. “I firmly believe we can move to 100 percent clean electricity sources and create good-paying jobs in rural Oregon at the same time.”