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A Mighty Wind in Union County

Pete Springer/OPB

Last week Union County voters struck down a ballot measure to support wind energy development in Northeast Oregon. By a four-point margin, the non-binding vote reflects a love-hate relationship residents there have with wind turbines operating in their community.
Since 1998 when the region’s first wind farm, Vansycle Ridge, came on line, Oregon has seen more giant turbines enter the landscape. From the bottom of the base to the tip of a fully extended blade, the turbines can reach up to 520 feet tall  – that’s nearly as tall as Portland’s tallest skyscraper, the Wells Fargo building. Prime locations for wind farms are elevated sites that are ideal for capturing wind flow. Because of the need for height and exposure, wind farms can often change scenic views for neighbors. Some residents complain that land use regulations don’t sufficiently protect the landscapes that attract visitors who bring revenue to the area. They fear more turbines will cause a decline in the tourism economy.  Others complain of the wind farms’ broader environmental and public health impacts.

But Oregon has vigorously incentivized wind energy development in the state with the Business Energy Tax Credits (BETC) program. And that’s been widely credited with attracting the world’s leading wind energy companies to locate their North American headquarters in Portland, making the state fourth in the nation for new wind capacity.

At first, wind energy accounted for 25 megawatts of Bonneville Power Administration transmissions. Now the amount of wind energy flowing through BPA is 2,095 megawatts. Recent reports have revealed that surpluses of hydro electricity sometimes prompt wind energy producers to shut down. But more wind farms on land are in development, including what will be the world’s largest wind farm. And still other developers are working on technology to build offshore wind turbines

Do you have concerns about wind energy? Do you live near wind turbines? What do you think are the benefits and risks of wind energy? What’s the proper role of wind in the energy mix?

GUESTS: (note: all caps)

  • Dennis Wilkinson: Union County voter who opposes wind energy development
  • Doug Lewis: Union County voter who supports wind energy development
  • Rachel Shimshak: Executive director of Renewable Northwest Project  
  • Cassandra Profita: Reporter for OPB’s Ecotrope site 
  • Paul Klarin: Marine affairs coordinator for the State of Oregon 
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