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GE gets its hands on the world’s largest wind power project

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General Electric has landed a $1.4 billion contract to build wind turbines for Caithness Energy

General Electric has landed a $1.4 billion contract to build wind turbines for Caithness Energy, the company building the world’s largest wind farm in Oregon — a project that could help the U.S. surpass Germany as the leading user of wind power, a major milestone for the domestic wind industry.

Dubbed the Shepherds Flat project, the wind farm will trump other giants currently in development like the Roscoe Wind Far and the Horse Hollow, both in Texas where wind has gained the most traction. Taken together, they demonstrate explosive growth in the U.S. wind sector, twice the growth of the global average, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.

Shepherds Flat will be the first North American project to use General Electric’s 2.5 XL turbines (see photo above), some of the largest built anywhere. Each one can produce enough energy to power 250 homes. The farm will have 338 of them. They are also unique in that the blades don’t create much friction when they turn, which should reduce maintenance costs.

Even though it is located in Oregon, it will be supplying power to Southern California Edison, helping the utility hit the California mandate for utilities to derive 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. To make this happen, 90 miles of transmission lines will connect the array to the grid. The power purchase agreement will funnel $16 million back into Oregon every year.

Spanning 30 square miles in Gilliam and Morrow counties in Oregon, the Shepherds Flat development has already won all of the necessary permits. The site has been approved by the state, which isn’t surprising considering how hard it has been lobbying for renewable energy companies to set down roots, offering a 50 percent tax credit to offset capital expenditures. Oregon currently ranks fifth in wind power generation — but this should up its placement.

Construction is slated to begin in 2011, employing as many as 400 people temporarily. The facility would employ about 35 people permanently. On top of that, it is expected to save 1.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions — hitting both major goals of government cleantech projects.

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