The Horse Heaven Hills wind farm project planned by Scout Clean Energy (Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business, May 2020) would stretch along 24 miles of ridgeline from south of the Tri-Cities at Jump-Off Joe Butte to near Benton City.
As many as 212 wind turbines would be placed in several rows, each turbine 500 feet tall. We oppose such large-scale projects that alter our skyline and our outdoor quality of life.
The Tri-City region is a hub for electric power generation for Washington state.
Over 40% of clean, renewable electricity in the state comes from the dams of the Columbia Basin and another 8% is produced by the Columbia Generating Station, the nuclear power plant in Richland.
Overall, 76% of all electricity in Washington comes from hydropower, highest in the nation. We don’t need additional unreliable and expensive wind power.
Wind is intermittent and electricity is only generated about a third of the time. The Benton County PUD issued a position paper in July that it will no longer connect wind power to its grid; the unpredictable electricity generation forces the PUD to have equivalent backup power generation which is costly.
Scout Clean Energy is a broker of electricity. It connects investors and willing landowners with contractors to build wind farms all over the West.
They are based in Colorado and are not a local “brick-and-mortar” company caring about our community.
They sell “renewable, green” electricity to the highest bidder. Some of electricity generated here could potentially go as far as Los Angeles via the “Pacific DC Intertie,” supplying 3 million homes there, at a rate double or triple our electricity rate, a windfall for Scout Clean Energy but not much a benefit for the local community.
Electricity is an extremely competitive commodity: When a new technology comes along, prices will drop, and the wind farms could become obsolete.
This happened in the 1980s when the oil crisis sparked a rush of thousands of wind turbines being built with tax incentives at locations such as the San Gorgonio Pass in California near Palm Springs, only to be abandoned a decade later when cheap oil and gas from fracking sent the investors packing.
This could happen again: cheap solar panels, small modular reactors, or another new technology could change the economics of wind energy.
The life span of wind turbines is 15 to 25 years. Where will Scout Clean Energy be when hundreds of obsolete wind towers on our skyline need to be removed? Turbine blades made from composite material are hard to recycle and usually end up in landfills and hundreds of concrete pads and miles of supply roads are expensive to remove.
All this would happen in clear view from the Tri-Cities.
Electricity is not the only big business in our region: Tourism is major source of revenue and jobs.
“Visitor spending in 2019 was
$560.2 million, creating 6,370 jobs in Benton and Franklin counties, $54.5 million in local and state tax receipts were collected; $19.3 million in tax receipts were retained locally,” according to Visit Tri-Cities.
Our mild climate together with beautiful views of vineyards and orchards attracts visitors and travelers.
People come here to play golf, walk and bike our beautiful paths along the Columbia River, enjoy a glass of good wine on an outdoor patio and learn about our Hanford history.
Cruise ships dock in Richland and boutique hotels attract a well-heeled clientele. This year alone we saw the opening of several new hotels in the Tri-Cities.
These visitors don’t come here to look at a ridgeline resembling giant industrial operations. Each wind turbine is truly gigantic. At 500 feet, they are much taller than the ones at Jump Off Joe Butte which are 350 feet or less. Think Seattle Space Needle where the observation deck is at 520 feet.
Anyone who wants to see the impact of these wind farms on the landscape should have a look at the Columbia Gorge area where the once-serene Maryhill museum and the peaceful Stonehenge World War I memorial now have giant blades churning close by, a surreal setting that would amaze even Salvador Dali.
Another large industry in our area is the real estate, worth over $400 million per year.
The Tri-Cities is growing at a rapid rate, in part because of the mild climate, the relatively cheap housing and the beautiful setting along our rivers.
It attracts people to raise their young families or to retire here, away from the urban bustle of Seattle and Portland.
Many of these new developments, such as the Southridge area in Kennewick and Badger South in Richland, have beautiful views of western sunsets and the Horse Heaven Hills.
They and other homes with a view, from Rancho Reata to Badger Canyon, all the way to Horn Rapids, could see their skyline change drastically. It is easy to imagine that this industrial-scale wind farm on the horizon could encourage buyers to look elsewhere and have an effect on property values.
Our area with the Hanford site was called the “most polluted place on earth” by a national news outlet in the 1990s.
We have come a long way since then in cleaning up the Hanford mess and now have a quality environment and thriving communities based on our river parks and clean open spaces.
This attracts quality growth companies that pay high wages.
We don’t want to go back and pollute our environment and our hills with industrial-scale wind farms because nobody else wants them on the west side (NIMBY – Not In My Backyard).
We can do better! Please contact your Benton County commissioners who have to approve this project. Go to save-our-ridges.org for more details.
Markus Stauffer, a retired Hanford scientist, has lived in the Tri-Cities for 25 years.
Rich Gerlitz, who recently retired from the financial services industry, has lived in Prosser/Tr-Cities for 45 years.