Lower Snake River Wind Project to Generate Jobs
by Drew Foster
The News Tribune, March 29, 2009
A nearly 800 wind turbine project planned for Garfield and Columbia counties would create about 75 permanent positions and hundreds of construction jobs, some of which may seep into neighboring counties like Benton and Franklin.
"You're looking at a very large increase in area job growth," said Arum Kone, Eastern Washington regional labor economist with the state's Employment Security Department.
The Lower Snake River Wind Energy Project is expected to generate between 150 and 200 construction jobs while the wind towers are being installed, said Andy Wappler, spokesman for Puget Sound Energy, one of two companies developing the wind farms. RES Americas also is working on the project.
Wappler expects construction, set for 2010, to take place in "200- to 250-megawatt sections over a series of years," which would lead to sustained employment in the construction sector.
Wappler anticipates many of the construction positions to be filled by Garfield and Columbia county residents, but said some of those jobs should be dispersed throughout the region including Franklin and Benton counties.
The permanent positions -- people maintaining the structures -- would likely be filled by residents of Garfield and Columbia counties.
The addition of 75 permanent jobs to Garfield and Columbia counties would "have a major impact on the local job markets," Kone said. Garfield County's work force is 780, while Columbia County's is about 1,260, the economist said.
Plans call for the project to bring 440 turbines to Garfield County and 355 turbines to Columbia County. Generating about 2 megawatts of energy apiece, the wind turbines should produce between 1,200 and 1,600 megawatts, enough to power 300,000 homes or more, Wappler said.
The turbines would be in four areas, two in each county. Garfield County would be home to the Dutch Flat Area south of Pomeroy and the Kuhl Ridge Resource Area in northeastern Garfield County.
The Tucannon Area between Dayton and Starbuck, and the Oliphant Ridge Resource Area that abuts Kuhl Ridge would be in Columbia County.
Wind energy production was established in Washington in 2001. Turbines now tower above the Tri-Cities, and are peppered across Columbia, Klickitat, Kittitas and Walla Walla counties.
More than 200 wind turbines exist in Columbia County, Kone said, but the 440 turbines planned for Garfield County would be a first. Although the project is still in the permitting phase, Garfield County officials are excited about the economic effects wind energy might bring to the county of 2,300 residents.
"We're basically a very tiny community and were on the edge," said Garfield County Public Works Director Grant Morgan. "A good, quality influx of jobs will do good things for our community."
Morgan said Garfield County has felt some of the effects of the national recession, adding that the area already had a slow economy when the national economy began to decline.
"People are hungry, looking for work, and I think the developers understand that for the most part," he said.
Morgan said the planned wind farms have received mixed reviews from residents during comment periods, which include concerns about noise, views being diminished and decreasing farmland.
If the project comes to fruition, Kone expects communities to not only gain jobs, but see their economies bolstered by temporary workers staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and shopping at local retailers.
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