FARMERS EYE WIND'S POTENTIAL

February 01, 2002 12:00 am
POWER IN THE WIND: Nearly 170 people packed into Our Lady of the Valley Parish Hall Thursday to learn ways to benefit from the breezes that blow through the Grande Ronde Valley. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).
POWER IN THE WIND: Nearly 170 people packed into Our Lady of the Valley Parish Hall Thursday to learn ways to benefit from the breezes that blow through the Grande Ronde Valley. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The wind that whips through Union County summer and winter is mostly considered a nuisance, but county people are learning that the constant breeze could blow in dollars.

About 170 people gathered Thursday at Our Lady of the Valley Parish Hall to learn about the value of wind-powered energy and farming the wind.

Many ranchers and farmers attended the day-long forum, looking for a way to reduce energy costs. Wind power can be compatible with farming, and the technology for harnessing the wind allows the farmer to develop various levels of power production.

Developing energy can be a source of income, as a federal law requires the major energy producer in the area to buy excess energy from smaller, individual producers.

Heather Rhoads-Weaver of Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (SEED) said wind turbines windmills can be developed for small-scale use, such as pumping irrigation water.

Northwest SEED has developed wind maps showing areas where the greatest sustainable winds blow. Not surprisingly, parts of the Grande Ronde Valley show strong winds.

But building a windmill farm is not easy, Rhoads-Weaver said, and there are building and maintenance costs that must be considered.

It takes a lot of work to get a project in the ground, she said. Its definitely not a cookie-cutter project.

A landowner can take three separate paths to developing wind power: Leasing the ground to a wind developer, developing the system individually or creating a cooperative of wind farmers.

Rhoads-Weaver pointed to the value of creating wind cooperatives and said a co-op can start small to make sure a site is wind-favorable, and then gradually grow.

Wind developers put up high towers, and may lock up the land, she said.

On the other hand, wind developers take care of research and create a plan. Developing wind power individually or through a cooperative requires research and planning.

Rhoads-Weaver was one of a half dozen presenters during the workshop. Following her presentation, she said that Thursdays was the sixth in the past three months in Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington.

Quite a few landowners are taking the do-it-yourself approach, she said.

Thursdays forum was sponsored by Oregon Rural Action, the Union County Extension Service and the Eastern Oregon Review.

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