When green values collide

Interesting article this morning foreshadowing what is almost certain to be an ongoing clash of values as Oregon and other regions of the country and world escalate their pursuits of renewable energy. In this case, a wind farm proposed for siting near the eastern mouth of the Columbia Gorge is drawing determined opposition from nearby residents and Gorge preservationists who fear a blighted landscape within view of their property and the Gorge.

The Oregonian reports the proposed development “sets up a conflict between Northwest values, pitting a revved-up desire to advance clean, renewable energy against the long-held belief that rural and scenic areas deserve special care.”

Meanwhile, owners of property where the 40 turbines would be located relish the idea of substantial new cash flow from their farmland. Kind of like I imagine ranchers once did when they learned that oil was below the surface of their property.

This is the kind of complicated, if not wrenching balancing act between conflicting interests that we can expect to see played out in public for years to come. What is the ultimate price we are willing to pay for renewable energy? Because renewable doesn’t mean it’s free. Wind farms dominate landscapes. As long as they are located in remote areas, most people don’t object. But when ideal wind conditions are found within view of many people’s homes or a national scenic area like the Gorge, then what? Does the need for renewable energy trump the desire to protect scenic treasures? Do property owner development rights exceed the rights of nearby residents who object to noisy, marred surroundings?

And I would add one other matter not touched on in today’s article: the value or lack thereof from having an outside company as the wind project developer. From an economic development standpoint, I would much rather see Oregon companies behind these projects. If we don’t have home-grown companies willing or able to tackle energy developments like this, that signals another problem. But first comes the larger question of whether this site should be developed for wind energy. What do you think?

August 14th, 2007

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