Wind Turbines in Hood River, Oregon
A recent article in the Oregonian describes just how bad things can get when making revenue forecasts related to wind projects.
“State officials deliberately underestimated the cost of Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s plan to lure green energy companies to Oregon with big taxpayer subsidies, resulting in a program that cost 40 times more than unsuspecting lawmakers were told – The incentives are now under intense scrutiny at the Oregon Department of Energy, which is scrambling to curb their skyrocketing costs.” (Oregonian article: State low-balled cost of green tax breaks. October 31, 2009)
In light of this shocking revelation, and given the complexity of making accurate forecasts for any business (let alone the highly complex business of industrial wind-generated electricity), what assurances do the people of Hood River County have that revenue forecasts for the proposed Middle Mountain wind project are reliable?
Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that as of the date of this writing, Hood River County has yet to develop a comprehensive business plan for its proposed wind-farm project. This further begs the question of the reliability of their current revenue forecast. How is it that the County can forecast revenues of $10-million over the next 20 years if there is no comprehensive business plan to support the revenue forecast?
Few studies have been done in the U.S. to determine the true effect of industrial wind turbines on migrating birds and other animals. However, countries with greater experience with wind power, such as Denmark and Germany, are beginning to recognize the negative consequences on the environment, and are starting to curtail their wind-energy expansion plans.
Even in the U.S., stewards of the environment are demanding certain constraints. For instance, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says that wind turbines should not be erected near wetlands, on mountain ridges, near shorelines, or in other known wildlife concentration areas, or where fog or low clouds are common during spring and fall migrations.
Regardless of these warning signals, the county is planning to put six gigantic turbines on a ridge of Middle Mountain, in an area where elk regularly concentrate, where migratory birds fly over, and where both fog and low clouds are common during the spring and fall migrations.
And what will the effect of these gigantic turbines be on our orchards? Bees pollinate 90% of the fruit in Hood River valley. No one has yet studied the effects of windmills on bee populations, so it’s impossible to know exactly what the impact might be. But if the wind turbines go up, perhaps Hood River orchardists will be in the enviable (or not so enviable) position of being the first to find out.
The county claims that there is little if any scenic risk because their plans are to construct only six turbines on Middle Mountain.
The reality is we’re really not talking about just six turbines. We’re talking about potentially hundreds of wind turbines on our east hills. Consider, for instance, the fact that SDS lumber —now not just a lumber company any longer, but also a developer of wind farms—owns 1,500 acres in the east hills.
Can there be any doubt that once the county takes the first step toward peppering our landscape with wind turbines that others such as SDS will follow? In fact, the County is already gearing up for this eventuality, as the topic “Dealing with other potential Wind Projects in HR County —Ordinance or CUO?” is a key topic on the Commissioner’s January 10, 2010 Goals Session agenda.
And what about the zoning issue? The Middle Mountain project is planned for an area zoned Primary Forest (F-2). The regulation governing that zoning states: “The purpose of the Primary Forest (F-2) is to assure the continuous growing and harvesting of trees.”
The county plans to circumvent this zoning restriction by appealing to the State of Oregon’s Department of Energy BETC (Business Energy Tax Credit) program, the very same arm of our State government which is now scrambling to curb their skyrocketing costs mentioned earlier.
One would think that it was the county’s job to enforce our zoning regulations. But it seems that in this case, that’s not the case.
Meanwhile, in its sixth annual survey of “destination stewardship,” released in November of 2009, National Geographic rated Hood River as one of the top ten scenic areas in the world, on a par with the Bavarian Alps. The survey results stated that Hood River deserved its rating not just because it was “The U.S.A.’s Rhineland,” but also because of the incredible job it was doing of protecting its views.
Do we really want to risk this amazing distinction awarded by National Geographic —and the tourism dollars that come with it—by constructing wind turbines that will destroy the very same views we have come to be known for worldwide?
How much of a health risk does a wind farm present? The county says there are essentially no health risks.
However, any semi-conscious person alive today would say that the disturbing thump, thump, thump of the blades as they turn could result in some serious psychological problems for people living in areas where the sound can be heard. And it’s a fact that sound travels further in remote areas, especially in areas where there are hills and valleys where sounds echo, and where other sounds are not present.
So, how many people would actually be disturbed by the incessant sound of the blades turning? And how many people would be disturbed by the blinking of the night lights in the sky? And how many people would be disturbed by the “flicker effect” of the windmills?
The county gives no credence to any of these concerns. But, an article dated March 27, 2009 in The Oregonian had this to say:
“Dozens of wind turbines west of Boardman are so noisy, nearby homeowners say they’re keeping them awake at night and even making them ill.
‘It’s not healthy for us,’ Dan Williams said of the 240-foot tall turbines he can see from his hilltop home. ‘It’s like a freight train that’s not coming or going.’”
So Who Benefits?
In the end, who really benefits from these “community based” industrial wind-farm projects?
- The companies and individuals receiving tax credits benefit.
- The industrial giants who are making their fortunes constructing the wind farms benefit.
- The lawyers who will be hired to sue or defend claims will benefit.
And who are the biggest losers?
- We the people of Hood River County are the biggest losers. We risk our scenery, we risk our environment, we risk our health, and we risk our financial futures.
Ask Questions & Get the Facts
Please – ask questions and get the facts.
Don’t assume that because these giant wind turbines are supposedly green, that they are. And, please don’t assume that Hood River County can benefit financially, because as of yet, there is no solid business plan that says we can. Letting wind turbines into Hood River County may be something you will regret for the rest of your life.
As a start, let your County Commissioners know that you have questions and concerns. Also, check out the websites and articles listed below:
- National Wind Watch: http://www.wind-watch.org/
- A Problem With Wind Power: http://www.aweo.org/
- Scenic Org: http://www.scenic.org/wind/
- Save Our Scenic Area (Whistling Ridge, WA): http://www.saveourscenicarea.org/contacts.htm
- Whistling Ridge article: http://www.saveourscenicarea.org/documents/Columbian_Article_-_August_23,_2009.pdf
Want to Know More?
A number of individuals and groups have come together privately to discuss these matters. Some of us feel it’s time we organized a more formal group to educate ourselves and the rest of the community about what’s going on and what’s at risk.
If this issue is important to you, and if you want to know more, please let us know.
For now, and until we can put the formal group together, please let us know of your interest by sending an email to Pat Case (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to Nilsa Zeman (email@example.com).
Thank you for being concerned.