December 3, 2010

Wind farm proposed near Oakesdale

The Daily Evergreen,

A Boston-based company is making plans to construct a wind farm near the town of Oakesdale, about 40 miles north of Pullman.

First Wind, an independent wind energy company, plans to construct about 50 100-megawatt turbines on the Naff Ridge eight miles northwest of Oakesdale, said Ben Fairbanks, First Wind director of development in the northwest.

“The proposed turbines would power about 25,000 homes around the area,” he said. “We’ve been working with 15 to 20 farmers in Oakesdale who want to expand their economic base with wind energy on their land.” Fairbanks said he believes the implementation of wind farms in the Palouse would benefit Whitman County.

“The reality is that we are not reducing the amount of energy we are using, and wind is a vast renewable resource,” he said. “You can compare energy generation to investing. Adding wind power to the list of where we get our energy from would only strengthen the portfolio.” First Wind has been working with Whitman County on moving their Palouse Wind Project forward for the past two years, Fairbanks said.

Whitman County just completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that can be found online, he said. The county will accept comments until Dec. 20. “This is a very open, very transparent process,” Fairbanks said.

As part of the EIS, Whitman County asked Jonathan Yoder, associate professor at the WSU School of Economic Sciences, to conduct a study on the economic impacts of the proposed wind farm.

“The economic effects from the wind farm would be mostly positive to the area,” he said. “The construction process and subsequent maintenance would benefit Whitman County.” In his portion of the EIS, Yoder stated the construction phase would bring about $26 million to Whitman County and provide about 160 full-time and part-time jobs. Once established, the wind farm would also recycle $1.45 million into the community and maintain 18 jobs during the operations phase.

The wind farm’s installation could also have tertiary benefits to Washington’s education systems, said James Bradshaw, director of Energy Systems Technology at Walla Walla Community College.

“We’ve just finalized our Wind Turbine Technology program for this year,” Bradshaw said. “Our branch in Clarkston is also in the process of getting their wind technician program up and running.” The degree consists of a two year program and currently has 15 students, he said.

“The wind energy industry is going to need the well trained technicians that we are preparing here,” he said. Bradshaw said Washington is the fifth state in the nation in terms of number of wind farms.

Fairbanks said he believes the proposed wind farm would create a positive influence on the education system.

“The proximity of the project to WSU could bring local students from the region to learn how to operate wind turbines,” he said. “Wind has a place around in the Palouse and around the world.”

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