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The Windmills Are Coming

Entry 1:  June 6, 2010

The Columbia Gorge faces many development threats.  This one wasn't even on the radar screen ten years ago.  But in the past few years as I hike and even drive the roads something is slowly creeping into my conscious perception, bit by bit.  As I drive east starting near Hood River, in the far distance there's now a white jagged appearance to the horizon.  At the top of the McCall Point trail on any clear day the wind turbines are visible.  Eastward from there, on just about any high peak one can see a forest of white pinwheels is growing.  

Stacker Butte Panorama View Wind Turbine Impact --  Chris Carvalho/Lensjoy.com

The shot above was taken from the top of Stacker Butte, also called Columbia Hills State Park.  It is just a small piece of a much larger panorama.  I am providing the full image so you can appreciate the impact.  Remember that it is copyrighted, so any publication or non-educational use must be licensed by contacting me.  To download it, click here.  This is a 1.7 MB file, so it may take some time to load.  The view is toward the east with the farms of the Klickitat River valley in the foreground.  

Once you open it, you will see thousands of turbines.  My camera isn't good enough to show the most distant ones, but if you look closely they extend almost to the left (north) and right (south) edges of the view.  They are getting closer to the edge of the Scenic Area boundary.  In fact, a project called Whistling Ridge is in the approval process right now just north of Hood River on the Washington side of the Gorge, and it will be on the edge of the boundary and visible from Nestor Peak and Mitchell Point.  It is a galling insult to the spirit of the Scenic Area Act to place a wind energy project a stone's throw from the regional boundary and call it compliant with the Act.  

Now I'm a big fan of renewable energy, but something about this march of the turbines reminds me of what happened when The Dalles Dam was built and drowned Celilo Falls.  We didn't appreciate what we lost at the time, and now it's unlikely we'll ever get the falls or the salmon back for decades to come, maybe never.  Early research is documenting how these turbines kill birds and bats (1), and it's obvious what they do to the view.  They also create noise pollution that aggravates nearby residents as well as jams the communication calls birds and other creatures use for breeding, finding food, and predator avoidance.  We've got to stop building them so close to the Scenic Area until we know more about their long-term effects, and also come to an understanding about how much visual impact we should tolerate.  In the meantime, we can look at something proven to meet our growing demand for energy that doesn't have any negative impacts.  It's called conservation.  

Few of us realize the rapid pace of this change.  Soon it won't be possible to go on a hike to a viewpoint anywhere in the eastern end of the Gorge and see a pristine east horizon.  Most of it is already gone.  The view of the horizon was something I took for granted.  Today I realized it's been taken from us and might never come back.  

New research holds hope for reducing the impact of turbines (2), but building huge numbers of them before we can better optimize the technology cements their impact on wildlife, views, and human health for years to come.  That's why going slow on new projects is a wise move.  

To comment on the Whistling Ridge wind energy project, go to http://www.efsec.wa.gov/whistling%20ridge.shtml
The project contact person is currently Stephen Posner, his information is located at the very bottom of the page.  

Your comments will likely carry more weight if submitted to the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).  The Washington EFSEC typically defers to the wishes of rural counties, which are hungry for the tax dollars these projects provide.  The counties have a history of ignoring the environmental impact when corporations wave money at their officials. 

Comments to the BPA can be submitted at http://www.bpa.gov/applications/publiccomments/OpenCommentListing.aspx
Scroll the page down to find the section on the Whistling Ridge Energy Project and click the "Make Comment" button. 

(1) Bernton, Hal. "Scientists study wind-farm risks to birds."   The Seattle Times.  Seattle, 2010.  Web.  6 June 2010  <http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2012048835_windbirds07m.html>.

(2) Moyer, Michael.  "Know the Flow."  Scientific American.  New York, 2010.  Web.  December 2010 <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=know-the-flow>.

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