Today Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire approved a scaled-down version of the Whistling Ridge wind farm in the Columbia River Gorge. The project faced fierce opposition from neighbors and advocates of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.
SDS Lumber proposed a 50-turbine wind energy project on a ridge outside the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area boundaries. After hearing from opponents and considering the proposal, and Washington's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council recommended the project be scaled back to 35 turbines.
Gregoire approved the smaller version of the project today, saying it struck a balance between energy and conservation needs:
“This decision wasn’t reached lightly. I weighed the hundreds of public comments collected by EFSEC. I examined the results of various environmental and land use reviews. And I considered the expert testimony gathered by EFSEC on the impact of new wind turbines. A modified project with 35 wind turbines would help meet our need for clean energy and bring needed jobs and revenue to Skamania County, while preserving the esthetic and recreational benefits of the Gorge. This decision is a balanced approach, and one that serves all citizens of the state."
The video above is a segment of last year's Oregon Field Guide special on the 25th anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act. Field Guide producer Ed Jahn reported on the controversy over wind energy projects proposed outside the scenic area boundaries – but close enough that they would still be visible from viewing areas inside.
Michael Lang, director of Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, says "Congress intended for views to be protected from these spots" when it approved the Scenic Act. Other opponents say allowing wind turbines to be built in places where they would affect protected views is not the spirit of the Scenic Act.
But others say the boundaries were drawn for a reason, and the SDS Lumber project happens to be on private land outside the boundaries. As Jason Spadaro, president of SDS Lumber says, "We've got a good wind regime, it's our private land, and it's outside the national scenic area and we've got easy access to transmission. All those come together to make this a perfect site for wind energy."