County needs wind project

By Observer editorial October 27, 2010 01:29 pm
Union County voters have the opportunity this election to send an important message about the county’s future. Voters are being asked to weigh in on on how they feel about the proposed Antelope Ridge Wind Farm.
The issue over Horizon Wind’s plan to construct the  300-megawatt wind farm on the hills at the southern end of the county has created quite a stir over the course of the past couple of years. Opponents have been vociferous — and organized. Proponents only recently have started voicing and displaying their support. The issue has been so divisive and controversial that the county commissioners decided to place the advisory vote on the ballot even though a decision on acceptance or rejection of the proposal is up to the state, not the county.

Opponents have questioned everything about the proposal, from its economic impact to the effect on wildlife, the Oregon Trail, tax credits, and health and well-being. They even question whether wind power can be classified as “green.’’ But let’s face it, those opposed to the project are mostly concerned about the impact on the viewshed.

The proponents, meanwhile, tout the economic impact on the region, private property rights and the need for more green power in the coming years.

The proponents’ arguments, and the wind farm’s benefits, are too strong to ignore. Union County voters should give a thumbs-up to the Antelope Ridge Wind Farm.

The various concerns can and will be addressed through the siting process. But Union County would have to look long and hard to find any other project that would have the economic benefit — both immediate and long-term — that this project would provide. We’d be foolish to reject it and brand ourselves a no-growth, no-change zone.

Union County needs economic investment. We’re not seeing a lot of companies beating down our door to come here. Construction of the wind farm would pump millions of dollars into our economy, both short and long-term. Local firms that provide contracting services and supplies, many of which are feeling the effects of the ongoing recession, would be able to add employees or contract workers. Local businesses, from restaurants and coffee stands to motels and grocery stores, would see an increase in business. The construction of the wind farm would amount to one of the biggest boosts our economy has seen in decades. And then of course there are the lease payments Horizon would be making to landowners. That money also will recirculate in the community.

The number of permanent jobs would only be about 20, but that’s 20 more well-paid jobs than we now have. More significantly, though, is the impact the project would have on funding public services. With the earlier Elkhorn project, Horizon now accounts for about 9 percent of taxes paid in Union County. Antelope Ridge is a bigger project. The county and Horizon are in the process of negotiating details for the Strategic Investment Program and additional local fees. Details of that agreement are due out any day. That revenue stream for local services won’t be found anywhere else for some time if this project is rejected.

Our nation has a growing need for green energy. Union County has a reliable source. Concerns about wildlife, tower placement and other reasonable issues can and will be addressed. But the bottom line is Union County can’t afford to lose this project.

Having perfect views might be a wonderful goal, but it won’t do anybody any good if we don’t have an economic base that will support jobs and investment.

Turning down Measure 31-75 would send a message that would be hard to overcome. Vote yes.