Rattlesnake Windmills Decided a Decade Agoby Editors
Opinion, Tri-City Herald, August 19, 2003
The question about whether Rattlesnake Ridge should be used for windmills was answered definitively 10 years ago.
The response then to a proposal to build a 280-turbine wind farm was no. The same answer should apply today to a proposed 550-turbine project.
In 1993, the last time Benton County had this discussion, there was room for real debate. The choice then was between wind power and a gravitational-wave observatory that had yet to be built.
Even then, proponents of bringing the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory to the area argued that vibrations from the wind farm would make the ridge an unsuitable area to build a laboratory with the sensitive equipment required to measure gravity ripples from space.
The community also balked at the prospect of spoiling its view of such a landmark as Rattlesnake Ridge.
This time, there does not seem to be as much grass-roots concern with the aesthetics of the proposed Maiden Wind Farm, a 500-megawatt project that would supply enough electricity to power nearly half of Seattle.
Partly, that's because the wind farm would be on the Yakima side of Rattlesnake Ridge and not visible from the Tri-Cities. Also, the community seems to have become more comfortable with windmills since the construction of the Nine Mile and Stateline wind projects.
But the problem of LIGO remains. Back in 1993, when the last Rattlesnake wind project was put on hold, construction of the $300 million LIGO observatory went forward.
The observatory, a federally funded joint venture by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology, just completed its first science run last year. As of May, the federal government had spent about $400 million on LIGO and planned to spend an additional $100 million to $200 million in the next year.
There's also the matter of the Battelle Gravitation Physics Laboratory, which is located even closer to the proposed wind farm site. It, too, wasn't around last time a wind farm on Rattlesnake Ridge was considered. The federal government's investment there is about $5 million.
Washington Winds Inc., the company that wants to build the wind farm, has not provided adequate assurances that its turbines would not disrupt research at labs that taxpayers have gone to considerable expense to build and operate.
Diversifying the nation's energy supply is an important goal, and the Mid-Columbia -- home to the world's largest wind farm, not to mention a nuclear plant -- certainly is doing its part. But the potential of more wind power is not worth the real cost of losing multimillion-dollar investments.
When and if Washington Winds can convince the scientists, then perhaps its project might be worth taking a look at. But until then, the conclusion reached in 1993 should stand: Rattlesnake is off limits to wind farms.
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