Christopher Paddon Hipfish August 2005
Nearly everyone agrees that Clatsop Count y needs economic development. But, not everyone agrees on what that should look like, witness the controversies over LNG and over bringing “box stores” like Wal Mart to the area. The problem may lie in the way we’re looking at the source of economic development.
Traditionally, Clatsop County economic development has come from outside the area. John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company founded Astoria as a trading post in 1811. His fur companies won an almost complete monopoly on trade in the United States. And where did Astor put his profits? Astor invested his profits principally in Manhattan Island farmland, which became New York City. When he died in 1848, he left an estate estimated at more than $20 million (in excess of $400 million in today’s dollars). (World Book, www.Inflationdata.com) The historic fact is that wealth based on Clatsop County’s natural resources ended up in New York, not in Clatsop County, a pattern repeated in fishing and logging.
Now might be a good time to learn from history and a good time to stop getting ripped off. Isn’t it time we had a little more left to show or came out ahead? Isn’t it time we created economic development and kept the profits and the development here, permanently? What would that look like? What do we have to offer that cannot be transported away from us or used up?
If there’s one thing Clatsop County has plenty of, it’s wind. With its abundant, inexhaustible potential and its new, cost-competitive technology, wind energy is considered one of the best energy technologies available today. It does not pollute air or water, nor harm fields or forests or wildlife. We won’t run out of it. But, how do we prevent the profits generated through wind power from being siphoned away from the County? Probably the simplest way is to build and own the means of production here, keeping both the economic benefits and their source under local control. But, just what are the economic benefits?
The environmental and economic development benefits of wind power are well established and have been proven on the ground. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimates the levelized cost of wind energy at less than 5 cents per kilowatt hour. Electricity generated from coal, gas, hydro, biomass and nuclear ranges from 4.8 to 14.5 cents per kwh. As the prices of fossil fuels continue to rise, the price of wind energy is rapidly becoming a cost competitive option (GAO 2004) and will continue to become less and less expensive.
In addition, there are many proven economic development benefits of installing and operating wind turbines that quite simply do not exist for nonrenewables like fossil fuels. First, operation of wind turbines provides more jobs than traditional energy plants. A study by the New York State Energy Research Development Authority found that wind energy produces 27 percent more jobs per kilowatt hour than coal plants and 66 percent more jobs than natural gas plants (DOE 2004). The construction of a 75 MW wind plant requires approximately 200 laborers employed for 6 to 8 months.
Second, economic benefits of wind energy are generated through savings. The community saves money by not having to pay outside energy companies for power. When residents and businesses, schools and government pay their electric bills, those payments stay within the community. The community saves again through lower health care costs related to pollution. Locally, Pacific Power’s basic service relies primarily on coal (80 percent), hydroelectric (10 percent) and natural gas (8 percent). Health problems linked to coal-fired power plants relate to “air quality problems for asthma patients, including many young children…. Asthma is the nation’s leading cause of school absenteeism attributed to chronic conditions. The estimated cost of treating asthma in those under 18 years of age is $3.2 billion.” [nationwide] (Sierra Club) Natural gas has been linked to “difficulty in concentration, fatigue, dizziness, depression, headache, nausea…joint pain, muscle pain, gastrointestinal distress… recurrent sinusitis and bronchitis and other inflammatory conditions, breast and ovarian cysts, and nasal allergies…” (Rossi 1996, Bell 1996, McAllister, 1997) Without these old polluting energy sources, residents stay healthier and keep more money in their pockets.
Third, wind turbines increase the tax revenues of local communities by an estimated $1000 per kilowatt. Land leases accrue $2,000 to $5,000 per turbine annually. And, through Oregon’s net metering laws, any excess electricity generated can be sold back to Pacific Power or other commercial power companies.
Let’s look at one example. A 2004 report by the Renewable Northwest Project on the economic impacts of the Klondike wind project in Sherman County, Oregon shows that employment from development, construction, and operations stimulated regional businesses and continues to provide personal income in the county. Sherman County as a whole receives substantial tax revenues, and individual farmers receive additional income from royalty payments while continuing farming operations unhindered. All of these benefits will drastically increase as the Klondike project is expanded in the coming years. In a county where farming is a way of life, wind has provided value and stability to the local economy. The same could be done for our coastal counties.
The combination of all these benefits multiply within communities as the wages earned by employees of wind projects are spent at local businesses, the supplies for the construction and maintenance of wind turbines are purchased locally, local banks invest in such projects, and tourists come to see the sight of turbines spinning and creating energy. Some of the same economic development benefits from wind energy operations accrue to landowner and community whether the project is a single turbine owned by a local landowner or a large wind farm owned by an out-of-state corporation. The economic development benefits are far greater for communities where wind power projects are locally owned and operated.
But what about birds? New designs have reduced the hazards to birds to zero percent. The old-style, (propeller type) horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT’s) of the 1980s did cause bird deaths: two hundredths of one percent (1/5500) as many as buildings and windows and one tenth of one percent (1/1000) as many as cats, fourteen hundredths of one percent (1/700) as many as cars. (Erickson et al, 2002, Summary of Anthropogenic Causes of Bird Mortality) However, new designs now minimize, and even prevent birds colliding with the rotors. The newer, more efficient propeller-style turbines rotate much more slowly–and visibly–without reducing the amount of power they produce. Vertical axis wind turbines (VAWT’s), such as those now being produced by TMA, Inc. of Wyoming, stand upright and spin much like the old-fashioned barbershop poles. There are even designs that rotate parallel to the ground in an open-and-close “Pac Man” fashion. One such turbine design, by Encore Clean Energy of Vancouver, BC, sits in a river with a set of collapsing rotors both above and below the water. The rotors above the water harness the wind, while those below simultaneously harness the water current. By rotating in opposite directions, the dual rotors double the amount of power generated.
Where would we place wind turbines? Oregon State University is conducting wind studies of this area, and preliminary results look very promising. OSU has pinpointed several local areas with at least a wind power “Class 5” rating or better: Wickiup Ridge, a hilltop east of Astoria, Clatsop Ridge, a hilltop due east of Gearhart, and several sites along the shoreline, including Ecola State Park and Fort Stevens. Although the shoreline sites lie within migratory bird routes, the newly developed low-profile, bird-safe VAWT’s would be the ideal choice here. All potential sites are within acceptable distances to electric power transmission lines.
Where could we manufacture wind turbines? There are several local industrial sites ideally located along the river and currently available to redevelop for such use. For example, the former naval shipyard at Tongue Point could provide space for manufacturing and assembly, ready access to the river for transporting heavy equipment and supplies, concrete flooring for mounting machinery, hangars for testing equipment, enclosed industrial space and large capacity electrical feed.
Where could our communities find funding for locally owned wind power? The Oregon Department of Energy is promoting community-based wind projects and development assistance is now available from the State. The Energy Trust of Oregon would provide financial incentives since we are in the service territory of Pacific Power. The USDA offers federal grants and loans to fund renewable energy projects in rural areas.
In addition, as of this writing there are already at least two potential private investors interested in backing a community-built, community-owned facility. Undoubtedly we could find more. And, we could sell small, reasonably priced individual shares in our community power plant. The average installed cost of wind-generated power is currently $1 million per megawatt, (and decreasing). A typical one-megawatt turbine generates enough electricity for 300 households. In other words, for the same cost as the Tapiola playground project, we could independently power 75 homes. It is completely unnecessary to siphon a large portion of local resource profits to an outside corporation.
Are outside corporations even interested? You bet. Our enormous coastal wind power generation potential has begun to attract large, commercial wind power developers. Ridgeline Energy, LLC of Idaho is already prospecting Clatsop County and applying for a permit to install a meteorological tower to monitor the wind on Wickiup Ridge. Their interest underscores the financial potential we are resting on. Now is the time to harness that energy. We still have relatively inexpensive fossil fuel energy with which to build our factory and set up our turbines. The State of Oregon and the federal government still have dollars available. And, outside interests haven’t yet taken this resource out of our hands.
We need local economic development that is sustainable, provides jobs, enhances the quality of life for all people including future generations, and from which we retain the profitability locally – for life. Here in Clatsop County, wind energy is the resource to help sustain us through the coming fossil-fuel energy decline. Can we afford not to consider it?
An old Chinese proverb says: “If the winds of change blow, some build walls, others build windmills.”
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