New Gorge Wind Farm Brushes Up
by Associated Press
MOSIER, Ore. -- The headlong rush to develop pollution-free electric generation is leading to a clash of classic Northwest values: clean, renewable energy generation versus the preservation of rural and scenic areas.
Wind farms have been rising in the Columbia Gorge for the past few years, but until now they have mainly been in remote wheat fields and rangeland, cash cows for grateful farmers and county officials.
But now, a Massachusetts company, UPC Wind Partners, wants to build 389-foot towers between Mosier and The Dalles, two population centers near the boundary of the federally protected Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
"Siting is absolutely critical," said Michael Lang, conservation director for The Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a nonprofit group that works to protect the scenic area. "How do we continue to support renewable energy but protect areas like the gorge and protect the rights of adjacent landowners? That's the key question."
UPC Wind officials told The Oregonian newspaper they're counting on a thorough application and Oregon's enthusiasm for renewable energy to help secure approval. And project manager Krista Kisch said the company is working on "a better design (for) the project or ways to mitigate the impact."
As proposed, each 1.5-megawatt turbine would produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 300 homes annually.
Many of the turbines would be visible from within the scenic area, including along Washington's Route 14 and Interstate 84, Rowena Plateau and McCall Point Trail, according to UPC Wind's application.
Neighbors have been lining up to oppose the project, saying they don't want 389-foot-high towers obstructing their views, and that they are worried about potential harm to hawks, deer and other wildlife. They said their health could be harmed by the continuous flicker of turbine blades flashing in the sun and the high-voltage power lines.
"People move here for the scenic beauty," said Mike Rockwell, a real estate agent who lives in Mosier, the tiny town in the valley below Seven Mile Hill. "They don't come here to have an industrial plant in their backyard."
For families who agree to have wind energy turbines on their land, the financial rewards can be immediate. Michael and Cathie Kortge of The Dalles own some of the land that UPC Wind hopes to build on; they would be paid based on the electricity generated annually.
"I'm 66 and supposed to be retired," Michael Kortge said. "I could turn a lot more over to my kids if we had that stream of revenue."
The Oregon Department of Energy ruled the preliminary application incomplete in early July. The agency kicked it back to UPC Wind with questions about everything from noise levels to wildlife impacts to road routes. A final ruling could be more than two years away, said Adam Bless, the department official heading the staff review.
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