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Oregon community develops wind farm without corporate help

 

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Ormand Hilderbrand says he "now knows the real meaning of going for broke'" after spending five years working to launch Oregon's first small, independently developed wind farm.

"You have to have a vision, and you have to stick to it," said Hilderbrand, 59, an entrepreneur whose family has farmed dryland wheat in the mid- Columbia region east of the town of Wasco since the 1860s.

"If you have the least bit of doubt, you won't get it done."

Construction started in June on the first of six wind turbines at Hilderbrand's 9 megawattcapacity PaTu Wind Farm.

PaTu is the Native American word for Mount Adams, visible from the wind farm's site along with Mount Hood, known to Native Americans as Wy'East.

When it begins generating electric power for sale to Portland General Electric Co.

On Nov. 15, PaTu Wind Farm also will have the potential to generate local jobs, retail equipment sales and general economic boosters for the surrounding Columbia River Gorge region, Hilderbrand said.

Total cost of the project will be in the range of $22 million to $24 million.

"When I finally turn a profit, I will invest it here. This is my home," said Hilderbrand, a 1969 Sherman High School graduate, who now lives on a trailer on the property. His parents still farm wheat on nearby acreage.

"I plan to build a house," he said. "I will buy vehicles from The Dalles dealers, and I will employ local workers."

Paul Woodin, executive director of The Dal l e s -bas e d Community Renewable Energy Association, said there are a few other community wind projects up and running or in progr e s s i n t h e s t a t e, b u t Hilderbrand's was the first to be developed without direct corporate support.

"The John Deere Co. Developed several community projects with the Echo Wind Farm (in Morrow and Umatilla counties in eastern Oregon)," Woodin said.

"There are nine projects at Echo Wind; six are straight corporate and three are the flip model," Woodin added. "With the flip model, Deere retains ownership for about 10 to 12 years of the tax credit program.

When that's done, they flip ownership back to the farmer."

What Hilderbrand has done that's different, Woodin said, "is that from Day 1, he has owned the project outright he is not using the flip structure."

Hilderbrand said he originally was planning to have a similar arrangement at PaTu with John Deere as exists at Echo Wind Farm, but he decided instead to do i t himsel f .

Potential for profits and revenue are greater that way but so is the risk, he said.

"Both small-scale project models such as mine and the John Deere one at Echo Wind Farm are important to Oregon," Hilderbrand said.

"My development path has significantly higher risk for me," he added. "If I stumble in the process, I pay the price.

"On the flip side," he said. "I believe my project has a higher economic return to the local or community area."

Hilderbrand is one of three owners of PaTu Wind Farm, along with his brother, Jeff Hilderbrand, and a local investor, who prefers to remain anonymous.

While he has benefited from advice, support, favorable legislation and grants from a host of local, regional, state and federal public agencies as well as significant financing from a Colorado bank Hilderbrand has done all the development work himself for the past five years.

That includes, he said, "sourcing the construction and long-term financing, selecting turbines, employing engineering firms and contracting the construction companies for the wind farm and substation buildout," he said.

"Plus," Hilderbrand added, "I provide the on-site project management and general management once the project is in commercial operation."

 
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