Northwest Renewable News

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‘Not in my backyard’ attitude ruins wind power prospects November 9, 2009

Filed under: Washington,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 2:32 pm
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If nine out of 10 Americans support wind development, why does it take over a million dollars and seven to 10 years just to assess the feasibility of a wind project?

Wind developers everywhere, from Nantucket, Mass. to our very own Walla Walla, Wash., are discovering that while the vast majority of Americans support the idea of wind development, there is no end to the litany of problems they come up with to stop wind projects proposed in their neighborhoods.

Currently wind energy is only 3% of the total electrical generation in the US. The Department of Energy predicts that we could reach 20% by 2030. If we’re ever going to reach that number, Americans need to start seeing wind turbines for what they are: signs of a cleaner and more equitable future. Now who wouldn’t want that in his or her backyard?

Right now, a lot of people. Environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr.’s opposition to the Cape Wind project near his family’s vacation home in Nantucket because it would “damage the view” is regarded by many as a classic case of NIMBYism.

This “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) syndrome is equally applicable to ranchers in Walla Walla who oppose the proposed wind project on Lincton mountain.

Although the project is still in the hypothetical phase, if sufficient wind is found, the Lincton mountain project could put up to 133 turbines on Lincton Mountain in the Blue Mountains, a location in Umatilla county a quick drive away from Whitman’s campus. Gaelectric Northwest, the company that is proposing the project, estimates that the project would could up to 50,000 homes.

According to Dr. Charles Shawley, Gaelectric’s  research and development expert, most of the ranchers in the area support the project. The majority of opponents live within city limits of Milton-Freewater or Walla Walla and do not own land that would be used for the project.

Whitman biology professor and rancher Delbert Hutchison, a landowner near a protected salmon stream below Lincton mountain, is one of the most surprising opponents to the proposed project. The main problem Professor Hutchison has with the project is that Gaelectric is an Irish-based company and will be likely selling the power to California. As  he put it “the primary benefits (money and energy) are going outside the area while the risks (e.g. damage to streams, etc) will stay here.”

According to Dr. Charles Shawley, Gaelectric’s  research and development expert, most of the major wind developers in the U.S. are foreign.

Although America has been called the “Saudi Arabia of Wind” due to our country’s incredible wind potential, a series of policies have led to great stagnation in the renewable energy sector.

In 1990, the U.S. had 75 percent of  wind power capacity worldwide. By 2003, the U.S. world share was reduced to 16 percent, as markets in Germany, Spain, Denmark, and even India surged due to active support by governments.

This dramatic reduction in the U.S. share comes from the combination of a repeal of government incentives for renewable energy with a plunge in gas prices, a $130 million decline in federal research spending on wind development and aging transmission lines. This deadly mix led to the bankruptcy of most of the American companies.

American wind energy is finally starting to get on its feet again, largely due to concern over climate change. As this industry re-emerges, we’re going to need as much public support as we can muster to catch up with the rest of the world.

Professor Hutchison and other opponents have also expressed concern over the ecological impacts of wind turbines, especially on the recently restored salmon streams.

While Hutchison agrees that his stance against the wind turbines is a classic NIMBY case, as a conservation biologist, he  knows the importance of reducing the impacts of climate change for ecosystem preservation. He finds it annoying that instead of addressing consumption, our society is simply moving towards finding ways to increase our energy outputs. As he wrote in an email “Here we are asking to put turbines in a pristine area that truly might impact streams and wildlife.  Is it worth it?”

Shawley assures that Gaelectric would complete a two-year ecosystem study before building the project, and then conduct ongoing environmental impact assessments once the project is built.

The economic facts are on wind energy’s side. Gaelectric developer Shawley said that although Gaelectric is an Irish company, all of the labor is sourced from the U.S., including the 20 jobs that the Lincton mountain project would create locally. Another major economic boon to the area is the annual payment landowners would receive for letting Gaelectric put turbines on their land. Umatilla county is one of the poorest counties in Oregon and has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

Although there are some legitimate concerns with the project,  staunch opponents need to think hard about the implications of opposing more renewable energy.  The alternative to meeting our growing energy demand—more coal and nuclear plants—will have to be sited in someone’s backyard too. Statistically, these mercury and radiation producing energy sources are far more likely to be placed in low-income communities where the locals’  protests are simply ignored.

By Lisa Curtis, The Pioneer –


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