“Windustry” is now Sherman County, Oregon’s largest employer. The 831-square-mile area, once a busy hub for sawmills and logging, now is dominated by wheat farms and hundreds of 300-foot wind turbines generating electricity and local income.
The 1,735 inhabitants of the county’s six small towns – Biggs, Rufus, Wasco, Moro, Grass Valley (News - Alert) and Kent – took in $3 million in 2010 as a result of the new wind farming movement.
Most of that money is split among the farmers who allow wind turbines to be placed on their land, but the average residents also benefit: To compensate them for having their vista blocked by turbines, which can affect property values in a big way, each head of household in Sherman County receives an annual check for $590.
“It’s modeled after a lot of Alaska compensation,” said Judge Gary Thompson of Sherman County Court, “There are a lot of people who live in the county who are not necessarily going to benefit from the renewable energy, and we felt we needed to share it with all the county residents.”
Currently, wind fuels the 321-megawatt Klondike Wind Farm located four miles southeast of Wasco; as well as the 450-megawatt Biglow Canyon Wind Farm just to the north; and the 400-megawatt Klondike project, east of Wasco.
The average landowner who allows a tower to be built on their property receives a “windfall” of around $5,500 per turbine each year, and some large farms can house a dozen or more of the massive power generators. The turbines are typically quiet, but not entirely silent, and there are laws regarding how close they can be to other structures. But with checks of $50,000 or more coming in each year, you can see why many farmers are perfectly content with the change in scenery.
And it’s not just private citizens who are benefitting. According to The New York Times, taxes, fees and assessments on more than 1,000 megawatts of wind turbine capacity have brought $17.5 million in nine years to Sherman County. At Sherman Junior/Senior High School in Moro, wind money paid for new computers, musical instruments, robotics equipment, portions of a greenhouse, and a new teacher to instruct the most gifted of its 124 students last year.
“Right now, when many districts around the state are gutting everything, we don’t have to,” commented Ivan Ritchie, Superintendent of the Sherman County School District and Principal of Sherman Elementary School in Grass Valley.
The turbines have brought more jobs to the area, officials say. The Columbia Gorge Community College has retooled its electrical engineering department into a renewable energy technician program that has trained 135 students from Sherman and surrounding counties.
“Wind is the only thing that is going to save rural Oregon,” said Judge Thompson, “especially since all the timber is gone and the saw mills and all that are closing down. I think what it is is a breath of fresh air.”
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Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News - Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Jennifer Russell