Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Harnessing Washington’s Wind

Creating carbon-free energy and good jobs and healthy communities – and further diminishing the need for 4 dams on the lower Snake.

by Joseph Bogaard, outreach director, Save Our Wild Salmon
A recent article in the Vancouver Columbian highlighted the wind energy investments in Kittitas County in and around the Columbia Gorge east of Portland and Vancouver. This is one of our region’s most promising areas for generating this clean and affordable energy source. Indeed, the wind blows a lot around here. Based on projects currently under construction and in the permitting process, more than 1,000 wind turbines should be online within the next several years able to produce 1200 MW of energy. That’s enough to support roughly 300,000 homes.

In addition to bringing new carbon-free energy online, the projects are also creating lots of much needed, good-paying jobs, generating significant tax revenues, and creating an important revenue stream for farmers and rural landowners that is – at least in some cases – is allowing them to stay put and keep the land in the family instead of selling to developers.

Farmers who lease their land to energy companies for turbine installations  - about $10,000 per year per turbine – can also keep farming. This steady source of income can make an important difference in an industry often known for ups and downs. Tax revenues from the turbines are also helping to improve schools and invest in the public health and safety services like fire and police.

Washington state’s energy portfolio is diversifying rapidly. Regional hydropower is basically maxed out now, supplying just under 60% of Northwest electric needs. The region’s official power planning agency, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, projects electricity needs increasing by about 3,400 average megawatts over the next 10 years, dropping hydropower’s share of the regional mix to just over 50% by 2020. Hydropower’s share will continue to drop as power consumption rises … and that doesn’t even take into account the climate change-related reductions in mountain snowpack that will cut hydropower capacity ever more deeply.

Energy efficiency will meet the lion’s share of new needs, along with wind and other new renewable energy sources. 
Right now, we’re actually developing more wind power than the region currently needs, so much of this new clean energy is actually heading south to markets in California. As new clean sources of energy continue to come online in the Pacific Northwest, the importance of lower Snake River dams’ relatively small contribution to our region’s overall energy diet continues to shrink. Our region can survive, indeed even thrive, without the 1,200aMW generated by these dams – about a third of which is sold on the market to California and elsewhere since Northwest public utilities don’t need it.

More information can be found at the NW Energy Coalition’s website.
You can also contact me directly: joseph@wildsalmon.org

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