So far, it’s been a breeze embracing the growth of wind energy in Oregon as a small part of a broader strategy on global climate change. But a recent proposal for the Columbia River Gorge suggests the industry is about to take a wrong turn and come into direct conflict with the state’s cherished livability while also marring our unique landscapes.
Massachusetts-based UPC Wind last month announced plans to build a 60-megawatt wind plant in Wasco County, west of The Dalles. The project marks the first time in Oregon that developers have tried to build such a massive facility a stone’s throw from a scenic area. It’s also the first time that a residential neighborhood would be significantly impacted.
In light of Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s call for 25 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable resources by 2025, similar conflicts are all but inevitable. We would be wise, therefore, to take a timeout now and come up with some common-sense rules guiding commercial wind development over the next two decades.
After all, this year we’re talking about the gorge. Next year, the debate could revolve around turbines on Mount Hood or on our beaches.
Any discussion should begin with the fact that a modern wind turbine is no shrinking violet. They exist on a scale difficult to imagine if you haven’t seen one up close. They soar higher than the 305-foot Statue of Liberty.
Now picture 40 of them, or 140 of them, lined up along a ridge with accompanying new high-voltage transmission lines and substations. While perhaps suitable for sparsely settled wheat fields, such an industrial-scale energy-generating factory is incompatible with places where we live, work and play.
UPC Wind’s proposed facility on Sevenmile Hill would literally tower over the town of Mosier. It would stand out to visitors to about half of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area – everyone from windsurfers in Hood River, hikers on Dog Mountain and fishermen chasing steelhead on the Klickitat River.
It’s a terrible idea for a place that for the last 20 years has been managed and preserved for its remarkable beauty. Approving the facility would open the door to further wind development in the scenic section of the gorge and would send the message that no place in Oregon is off-limits.
It’s also a terrible idea for the hundreds of families who call Sevenmile Hill home. Just the idea of a wind plant in the neighborhood already has resulted in a virtual freeze on real estate sales. UPC Wind actually has the temerity to suggest real estate prices will go up, but studies – and common sense – suggest otherwise.
In addition, the economic payoff for the area is truly paltry. Just three large property owners would receive money from leasing their land to UPC Wind. And when complete, the facility would generate fewer than 10 full-time jobs. Wasco County administrators are planning on giving the company a five-year tax break, so forget about additional short-term revenue for the cash-strapped county.
In short, this project doesn’t add up for the gorge or for Oregon. The governor and the Legislature should immediately enact a moratorium on new commercial wind plants in the state. The Oregon Department of Energy, through its Energy Facility Siting Council, needs time to update rules that were drawn up before the advent of these huge energy-generating factories.
Any new guidelines must clearly protect homeowners and places such as the gorge. Otherwise, more family neighborhoods and scenic treasures will be gone with the wind.
Scott Hege is former executive director of the Port of The Dalles. Tom Quinn is a home builder in the Columbia River Gorge. They are co-founders of the Oregon Alliance for Smart Wind Development, an advocacy group.
30 May 2007
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