Monday, December 31, 2007
Catch the wind
The proposal to site as many as 44 wind turbines just outside the National Scenic Area west of Underwood has become highly controversial.
That's no surprise. It's easy to imagine negative impacts from 400-foot tall towers with spinning blades on them. At first glance, the towers would seem to be out of place -- tall, intrusive, industrial.
But this truly is a matter of perspective.
It's worth noting that even strong opponents of this particular proposal near Underwood concede that getting renewable energy from wind is a positive and progressive way to meet our energy needs.
That's especially true when considering the alternatives: nuclear power, anyone? Or how about a new coal-fired plant in the area?
Recently, some government officials have started to push for the construction of new nuclear plants. If environmentally-sound energy sources such as wind turbines are blocked, opponents may end up unwittingly helping to get atomic power facilities, or coal- or gas-fired plants, pushed to the top of the list.
The reality is, energy has to come from somewhere. When looking at the big picture, we wonder why wind turbines are not more actively supported.
We agree there must be distance requirements and other mitigations so as not to impact the health and welfare of residents, and the farther the towers are from homes the better. But if those concerns are met, wind turbines deserve to considered, if not embraced.
Indeed, someone "thinking outside the box" even proposed making works of art out of the towers, by bringing in artists to paint them.
During the public meeting about the wind turbines at the Underwood Community Center in October, there were some intriguing and compelling comments made by supporters of the turbines.
One particularly strong comment came from a member of the Yakama Nation, who pointed out that if wind power had been available in the 1940s and 1950s, perhaps some of the hydro-electric dams that were built in the Columbia River Basin would not have been needed.
We didn't catch the Yakama Tribal representative's name, but this is what he had to say, and his words hold a powerful message: "From a cultural and environmental viewpoint, it's better than hydro power because that kills all our salmon," he said. "Our chiefs said they will support wind energy. What better way to generate power? If we'd had the same opportunity you guys have here when they were talking about building the dams on the Columbia River, what do you think we would have done? That's the big picture for all of us."
SDS Lumber Co. President Jason Spadaro, one of the key partners behind the plans for wind power turbines near Underwood, offered a compelling vision of his own.
"Climate change is happening on our planet," Spadaro said in his presentation to the Underwood crowd last October. "I'd be proud to see wind energy projects here, because it would show we're doing something. Why not embrace wind power? Why not tell our kids and grandkids that Skamania County is doing something about supporting renewable energy?"
Why indeed? This region might have a real opportunity to show a way forward to a nation heavily hooked on burning fossil fuels, and on over-consumption. There may be ways out of the mess we as a society find ourselves in with global warming and the degradation of our air and water, but we have to be willing to make tradeoffs.
This project deserves another look from opponents. Frankly, in the long run, our scenic views won't matter if we end up with a planet too hot to sustain our lives.
Spadaro may be seen by some as one of the "bad guys" because of his promotion of this proposal, but that sentiment is unfortunate and unjustified. Indeed, in perhaps the most ironic development to come out of this controversy, Spadaro may turn out to be the real environmental visionary here.