In Morrow County, it appears that elected officials are excessively influenced by the ever-present whispers in the wind, “Think about the money,” as they consider wind energy issues. By contrast, elected officials in Umatilla County have researched the issues thoroughly and have recognized that revenue from industrial wind energy is only one of the issues to be considered.

 Umatilla County has the longest history of industrial wind energy development of any county in the state. As a result, there is a local comprehensive understanding of the issues surrounding such development — including issues which surround and go beyond “Think about the money.”

During recent code amendment deliberations, it became clear that Oregon’s noise regulations provided an unsatisfactory mechanism for protecting county residents from adverse effects of neighboring industrial wind energy development. In addition to the protection being seen as inadequate, dependence upon the state noise regulation virtually assured that local residents would be pitted against large corporations in legal wrangling when problems arose — just like the situation in Morrow County. Umatilla County adopted a physical distance setback requirement between wind turbines and rural homes. This is a development standard that is clear and concise, without risk that county residents will have to hire sound experts and lawyers to establish that the standard has been violated. Yet, like the noise standard, wind developers are allowed to negotiate a reduced distance setback with neighboring homeowners.

 Umatilla County’s long history with industrial wind energy includes the receipt of tax revenues from wind projects. Elected county commissioners in Umatilla County can’t — and shouldn’t — ignore the prospect of revenues to the public coffers from industrial wind energy development (“Think about the money”). But the commissioners should — and did — balance all the issues when they adopted the amendments to the development code.

 One thing missing from the situation in both counties is a true effort by industrial wind developers to adopt an attitude of being a good neighbor and good corporate citizen. Since the developers seem to place little value in the concept of being good neighbors, legislative actions have had to be taken to force them to be good neighbors (the recent code amendments) ... and what do they do? They appeal the well-studied and sensible code amendments adopted in Umatilla County! Why would developers resist reasonable development codes? I’m betting they are thinking only about the money.

 Umatilla County is getting it right. It is a real shame that wind developers and their lawyers would rather gut reasonable controls on their excesses than take a long-term approach and try to engage in responsible development.

 Ed Chesnut


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