Wind power’s promise of an endless flow of nonpolluting electricity is certainly seductive.
All the more so if you happen to live hundreds of miles from the massive wind farms where it’s generated.
Excuse us for feeling touchy on the subject, but we’re getting a little tired of outsiders viewing Eastern Washington as a blank slate for towering turbines to power their urban lifestyles.
If it’s a good idea to put wind turbines anywhere the wind blows, why not line the coast with these behemoths? After all, a near constant breeze wafts over every point between Cape Flattery and the mouth of the Columbia.
That’ll never happen, of course, and for good reason. No one wants to mar the incredible natural beauty of Washington’s ocean beaches.
Eastern Washington’s vistas deserve the same consideration.
Rattlesnake Mountain is being eyeballed once again by wind prospectors. That iconic feature of the Hanford Reach National Monument should be declared off limits.
Although they don’t emit carbon dioxide, the machines that convert wind to electricity – like every other energy source – come at a cost.
There’s the money it takes to build and operate the turbines, tax incentives, some impact to wildlife, including bird kill, and no doubt other costs that haven’t occurred to us.
But a big one is the visual impact. These giant metal windmills are a blight on the landscape.
It’s a foregone conclusion that wind power will be part of the energy mix for the foreseeable future.
The potential to help cut greenhouse gas emissions is significant, and there are profits to be made, with some of the money helping to revitalize rural economies.
But let’s be realistic.
Wind power is no panacea. Its usefulness is limited, since you can’t control when the wind blows. In fact, the times we need the most energy – during cold snaps and heat waves – also are the times when the air is most likely to be still.
But even without their limitations, wind farms aren’t appropriate for every ridge line.
It’s not clear how much our view of Rattlesnake Mountain might change. Northwest Wind Partners LLC, the group considering the area for a wind farm, hasn’t returned the Herald’s calls.
But reporter Chris Mulick learned the project could consist of about 150 turbines, standing as tall as 500 feet and possibly adorned with strobe lights that flash by day and red lights at night to warn off pilots.
“Any place you could see the ridge, you could see the turbines,” said Toby McKay, the Tri-Cities Unit land manager for the Department of Natural Resources, told the Herald.
The Mid-Columbia’s landscape is defined by its hills, and Rattlesnake Mountain is the commanding centerpiece.
The mountain is integral to the rhythm of life in the Tri-Cities.
We number our days with sunsets dominated by the hulking silhouette of Rattlesnake Mountain, and we mark our seasons by the subtle changes in the arid plant life clinging to our hillsides.
We’ve already sacrificed many of Eastern Washington’s vistas to wind power’s siren call. No doubt more will follow.
But not Rattlesnake. Not now, not ever.
23 October 2007
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