One wind farm is up and running, two more are under construction and a fourth has been delayed until spring.
Whether people are driving along Interstate 90 or sitting on their front porch, different vantage points offer different pictures of change in the Kittitas Valley. Just as the vistas vary, so do the opinions:
Joan Neslund, who works at the Ellensburg Public Library, says many people who come to the library comment on the wind turbines. Some like them, some don’t.
“You notice something new,” Neslund said. “You always notice something new.”
Neslund said she is a fan of the wind turbines and doesn’t mind their placement, both at the east and west ends of the valley.
“I’ve walked most of that land. It’s not really that good for development,” Neslund said. “What’s really nice is the land isn’t restricted.”
She said as someone who likes to hike, she appreciates that the wind turbines don’t cut off access to the land. If they did, she said, that would be another story.
People’s opinions of the wind farms will be different in five years, Neslund said, because the projects are under construction.
“There’s a lot of concern,” Neslund said. “It’s just fear of the unknown. Often times we’re more happy on the other side of change, but we don’t know that.”
Neslund lives in the city of Ellensburg, but says if she lived near U.S. Highway 97 where the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project is being built, she still wouldn’t complain.
“I really believe in the energy source,” she said. “I’m really proud of the county.”
She said it sends a positive message to people traveling through on Interstate 90. People see the wind farms, the green parks and the solar project and must think Ellensburg is a great place, she said.
Ugly monstrosity is the term that comes to mind for Teri Bentz when she sees the wind farm being installed near U.S. Highway 97. Bentz lives north of Ellensburg. She can’t see the wind turbines from her home, but she sees them as she drives to and from her house.
“I almost get angry when I see them,” Bentz said.
The wind farm east of the valley, however, doesn’t bother her so much.
“I’m all for green energy,” Bentz said, adding that there must have been a better place to put them.
Bentz said well before the first tower went up, she was opposed to the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project.
“I never was happy about the ones that are on the northwest side of the valley,” she said.
Bentz said people who say the wind turbines are beautiful, must be joking.
“I’m like, oh my God, are you serious?” Bentz said.
She also wonders how much the wind farms throughout the valley benefit county taxpayers.
Looks like progress, says resident
From her house on Tozer Road off of Thrall Road, Michelle Tozer can see wind turbines to the east and to the west.
“We are very lucky to have a view,” Tozer said. “Looking at them looks like progress, looks like productivity.”
She has been to the renewable energy visitors center at the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility to see them up close. Some of the field trips for her children have been at the visitors center, too.
“It’s amazing how huge they are when you’re standing next to them,” Tozer said. “And they’re very quiet, too.”
Tozer said there aren’t many houses around the wind farms to be affected.
“I really didn’t think it was going to be as big of a deal as everybody is making it out to be,” she said. “I think we have enough wind. I think they’re in such a place, it’s not hurting anybody.”
From the beginning she said she supported the wind power projects in the county. They provide jobs for local people and benefit all Puget Sound Energy customers. The fact that the turbines are environmentally friendly is good, too.
“I think it adds to the landscape,” Tozer said. “How would they want them to look?”
Caught in the middle
Beverly Tilton lives outside Ellensburg and can see turbines to the east and west. She thinks people should have bigger things to complain about than wind farms.
“For instance: unkept lawns, yards with piles and piles of junk in them, people that keep old cars parked all around their house and businesses that are eyesores, litter all around town and the list could go on and on,” she said.
Tilton said she neither likes nor dislikes the wind turbines.
“What I can say is that they don’t bother me,” she said. “I find it kind of interesting to look out across the valley and seeing them. They bring more emphasis on our beautiful valley. They definitely aren’t a distraction from the beauty that’s surrounding them, but like the old saying goes, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Tilton said there are people in the county who will always complain about growth in the valley.
Roger Weaver, president of the Kittitas County Realtors Association, likens the wind turbines near U.S. Highway 97 to a white picket fence around the Stuart range. He said the wind farms will negatively impact property values.
“I think they definitely will in certain areas,” he said.
Weaver said it’s political when it comes to the wind farms, and that they’re not a serious energy source.
He said allowing the wind farms in the county is going to go down in history as the worst decision made for the county.
“It’s terrible,” Weaver said. “I’ve been against them from the beginning in regards to placement. There’s so many alternatives to where they could have put them.”
Weaver said there isn’t any data yet that supports that property values have suffered because of the wind farms because the market is still being impacted by the recession.
“As soon as the market gets going again, there will be a difference,” he said.
Steve Verhey: Wind Farms come with trade offs
Steve Verhey, a candidate running for Kittitas County commissioner in the general election as an independent, said the wind farms don’t bother him.
“I’m a renewable energy person, and I basically like wind farms,” Verhey said. “I get used to these things very quickly. I think this big ol’ valley is swallowing them up.”
He suspects other people will also get used to them, much like people get used to seeing power lines and other man-made structures.
“I, and I think a lot of people, were surprised to see how long it is,” Verhey said about the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project. “It’s got kind of a long skinny foot print.”
Verhey thinks it’s not a bad thing for people to see where energy comes from.
“I think being reminded that it takes something – that there are trade offs – is a good thing.”
Some people don’t want the reminder.
“I have had people tell me that if many more wind farms come, they’re going to leave,” Verhey said.
He said there are still view-sheds in the county that do not have man-made structures in them. If elected in November, Verhey said he might look at removing those sections from the wind farm overlay area to preserve unspoiled views.
Obie O’Brien: Inappropriate place
Obie O’Brien, running for county commissioner in November as a Republican, said he sees very few of the wind turbines from his home.
“My question would be, depending on whether you love them or hate them … How close do you live to them?” O’Brien said.
He said if you’re far enough away from the wind turbines, they look like part of the landscape.
“I think that was an inappropriate place to put them, on (U.S. Highway) 97,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said he doesn’t recall ever seeing wind turbines near Olympia.
“We need to really thank our governor,” he said.
If elected, O’Brien said he will focus on getting local control.
“I want landowners and local people to have local control,” he said. “If we have the ability to make our own land use decisions, we’re all going to be in a better position.”
He said the decisions should be long-range.
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