From Wheat to Wind

Sherman County farmer generates energy success

By Drew Myron

Ormand Hilberbrand is founder, owner and operator of Oregon’s first independent wind farm. PáTu has six utility-scale wind turbines that generate enough clean energy for 2,200 homes.

The odds were against him, but challenge defines Ormand Hilderbrand. This former farm boy traveled the globe, returned to his roots and emerged a leader in renewable energy.

A 1969 Sherman High School graduate, Ormand is founder, owner and operator of Oregon’s first independent wind farm.

PáTu Wind is a 9-megawatt wind farm 3 miles east of Wasco on the Hilderbrand land. Operating since 2010, the project consists of six utility-scale wind turbines that convert wind into 27,000,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, generating enough clean energy for 2,200 homes.

Oregon has a handful of small, community wind projects in operation, but Ormand’s was the first to be developed without direct corporate support.

“Ormand is the leader in independent wind farming,” says Brian Skeahan, managing director of Community Renewable Energy Association, an advocacy group for Oregon-based renewable energy. “PáTu is the only producer of its kind serving power to Portland General Electric.”

Ormand’s roots in the area grow deep. His family has farmed dryland wheat in Klondike since the 1800s.

Ormand’s parents, John and Wanda, continue to farm wheat around the turbines, and were the first in Sherman County to allow turbines on their land as part of the Klondike wind power project owned and operated by Iberdrola, one of the largest wind energy developers in the U.S.

“We’re providing jobs in the area,” Ormand says. “On a dollar-to-dollar basis, there is more return to the local economy on the small projects than the larger projects.” Here, a construction crew sets a spreader bar used by a crane to lift the generator and gearbox housing onto the top tower.
Photo by Bruce McGregor Photography

After graduating with a degree in agronomy/soils from Oregon State University and a graduate degree in international business, Ormand became a force in international irrigation development. Working for Valmont Industries, renowned for center pivot irrigation systems, Ormand lived around the world, from Mexico to Madrid, from Saudi Arabia to Shanghai.

When he returned to Oregon in 2000, Ormand says he wanted to develop something in his own area that’s good for the environment, the state and local community. “

After working and traveling and living in other countries, I wanted to help our own country become more energy self-sufficient,” he says.

PáTu was a vision years in the making. The $24 million project is the work of Ormand and his brother, Jeff Hilderbrand, and silent partners.

Initiated in 2005, it took more than five years to turn Ormand’s plan into a powergenerating reality. His dream required dogged pursuit of financing—and all looked promising until the recession hit.

“In 2008, you had to pull up your pants and persevere,” he says.

Although Ormand secured a loan through Oregon’s Department of Energy, those funds were only available once the project was in operation. In the meantime, Ormand needed a loan to cover the purchase of the turbines and construction costs.

Big banks showed no interest in lending for construction, particularly in a time of financial uncertainty. Smaller banks, with limited experience in this type of project, turned him away too. To get started, Ormand took a second mortgage on his house and dipped into savings. Then, finally, a private investor stepped in.

PáTu secured a 20-year power purchase agreement with Portland General Electric, and a long-term transmission agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration. But Ormand says even these arrangements can be arduous.

“I came from working in a free market versus a regulated system,” he says. “With a private company, you always have to adapt to be competitive.”

Wind energy companies have contributed more than $17 million in property taxes, fees and investments into Sherman County, according to a 2011 assessment of wind’s impact on the area.

Boosted by these property taxes, Sherman County has enjoyed a windfall of capital construction projects, including a new school, library, courthouse and city halls. In addition, the Sherman County’s Resident Compensation Program pays $590 per household as a means of sharing wind energy revenue.

While the region is filled with large-scale commercial wind developers, small wind farms provide a boost to the local economy and serve as working symbols of self-reliance and entrepreneurship.

PáTu produces more than power. It employs local and regional folks to provide site monitoring and maintenance, technology support, accounting, legal assistance and more.

“We’re providing jobs in the area,” Ormand says.

Ormand estimates his wind farm puts $500,000 a year into Sherman County in the form of salaries and taxes.

“On a dollar-to-dollar basis, there is more return to the local economy on the small projects than the larger projects,” he says.

The name “PáTu” means snowfields, according to the Wasco and Yakama tribes who believed the snowfields surrounding Mount Adams were the source of all life and energy. True to its name, PáTu Wind has generated wind power for seven years and successfully contributed to Oregon’s sustainable energy landscape.

“He’s a visionary,” Brian says of Ormand. “He’s also brave and persistent. This is not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of sweat equity from the Ormands of the world.”