Oregon Studies Wind Farm Impacts

How’s that old song go? Down in the valley, valley so low, hang your head over, hear the wind blow. It blows in Oregon, and public health officials, in a series of “listening sessions,” now want to hear from communities impacted by the state’s burgeoning wind-energy industry.

State officials said they want to ensure that “people can participate in the process and express their concerns” about how nearby wind farms “may affect their health and well-being.” They’ll likely get an earful. The early-November sessions — in the eastern Oregon towns of La Grande, Pendleton and Arlington — unfold as wind farms come under criticism on a host of counts, including potential impacts on wildlife, marring pristine vistas and creating an insufferable drone. In May, the Morrow County planning commission determined a 72 megawatt farm violated state noise regulations and gave it six months to comply.

image via DynGlobal

Oregon is aiming to get 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2015 and fully a quarter by 2025. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the state added a whopping 691 megawatts of wind capacity in 2009, in the process becoming the nation’s sixth-leading wind-energy state. And the growth continues apace. Completion of the Bigelow Canyon Wind Farm in September added 300 MW.

Then there’s the Shepherds Flat project, the granddaddy of them all: Proposed to cover 30 square miles — near Arlington, by the way — it would consist of 338 turbines and produce up to 845 megawatts of power to be sold to Southern California Edison.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.