Don't put that windmill in my back yard!

Virtually everyone wants their electricity to be generated by clean, renewable wind power - unless that windmill is in their back yard.

With all the euphoria over renewable energy, wind power developers have identified the best locations for wind farms. Unfortunately, many of those are within sight of people's homes or recreational areas.

For example, northwest of Ellensburg, Horizon Wind Energy originally proposed erecting 80 wind turbines spaced 1,000 feet apart. When rural residents objected, the company reduced the number to 65 turbines placed 1,325 feet apart.

Then Kittitas County commissioners stepped in and said the wind turbines needed to be spaced 2,000 to 2,500 feet apart, which would reduce the number of turbines to 15 to 30. Company officials declined, saying the restrictions would make the project economically unfeasible, and county commissioners rejected the project.

This Not in My Back Yard movement is impacting wind projects elsewhere as well.

For example, in West Virginia, many of the same environmentalists who oppose Appalachia's high-sulfur coal mines are now protesting wind turbines - and they have some high-powered support. Democrat Congressmen Alan Mollohan and Nick Rahall say installing wind farms on the state's mountain ridges would kill birds and bats and spoil West Virginia's scenic beauty. So that project is stalled.

Then there is Massachusetts, where Cape Wind Associates wants to build two wind farms near the exclusive community of Cape Cod.

Under the proposal, 90 to 120 wind turbines would be built three to four miles off the coast in Buzzard Bay. Just a few miles away, 130 wind towers would be erected in Nantucket Sound. Keep in mind that Massachusetts, unlike Washington, generates most of its electricity from coal, natural gas or petroleum.

The project has drawn fierce opposition from some local residents who say the turbines will endanger sea birds, spoil the view, reduce property values and endanger boaters. Two of the project's most powerful opponents are U. S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose Hyannisport mansion faces the site, and prominent environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr.

"These fat cats with waterfront estates go to cocktail parties and claim they're all for renewable energy," says Cape Wind's President Jim Gordon. "But when it comes to their own views, it is pure nimbyism - not in my back yard."

Oil, coal and natural gas are highly efficient and provide 80 percent of our nation's energy, but they contribute to greenhouse gases. To move away from fossil fuels, supporters in Washington state are promoting I-937, the Renewable Energy Portfolio initiative. I-937 mandates that 15 percent of our energy must come from renewable sources - not counting hydropower - by 2010.

But that means trade-offs.

If we want wind power, we must be willing to site wind farms in prominent, visible locations to capture the steady breezes. But wind power alone could never supply enough energy to meet our needs, it must be combined with other sources.

Solar energy is clean and renewable, but currently it's very expensive and inefficient. The 272 panels at the new White Bluff project on the Hanford Reservation powers only eight houses.

Hydropower is our region's most prominent and dependable form of renewable energy. Today, it provides nearly three-fourths of the electricity generated in our state, but I-937 doesn't count hydropower as a renewable energy source. In fact, many I-937 supporters want the dams removed because of concerns about salmon.

But according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, breaching the dams would increase electricity bills for Northwest ratepayers by $300 million, add $40 million to transportation costs, eliminate 37,000 acres of prime irrigated farmland, wipe out 2,300 jobs, and cut personal income by $278 million a year.


Would I like to drive through the open spaces and see only what nature created? Of course; but I also want gas for my car, hot water for my shower, and electricity for my home.

As you consider signing I-937, it's important to remember that there are consequences to everything we do.

Don C. Brunell is President of the Association of Washington Business.


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