Wind farms pose too big a risk for county

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board July 19, 2013 08:36 am

The debate over whether Baker County should welcome wind farms can be distilled to a cost-benefit analysis.

Would wind farms enrich the county more than they degrade it?

Our answer is no — a proliferation of wind turbines (there are just six in the county now) would not be to Baker County’s long-term advantage.

The attribute that is most at risk from wind farms is, we concede, a subjective one: aesthetics.

Some people hate to see turbines.

Some people like to watch them spin.

Still others don’t much care.

But we believe it’s beyond dispute that, were dozens of turbines built here, Baker County’s appearance would be changed dramatically.

This is no minor matter in a county where tourism is an important industry. And many of our visitors are attracted by our mountains, canyons and other picturesque scenery that is largely devoid of towers and other manmade distractions.

In this way Baker County is vastly different from the parts of the Columbia Basin where most of Oregon’s wind turbines stand now.

Wheat fields are attractive, to be sure, but they’re not exactly tourist attractions.

Wind farms could harm sage grouse habitat, and indirectly contribute to the bird being added to the federal endangered species list.

That could cause major problems for the beef cattle industry, the biggest sector of the county’s economy, because most of the county’s cows graze in areas that are, or possibly could be designated as, critical sage grouse habitat. Grazing could be limited, or prohibited, in those areas.

To be clear, we’re not opposed to alternative energy sources — including wind power — although it is troubling that these seem to depend so heavily on government subsidies.

Although the construction and operation of wind farms would bring dollars and jobs to the county, we doubt this economic boost would be substantial enough to offset the negative effects.

In any case, Baker County’s carbon footprint is already admirably tiny. Most of the kilowatts we consume are generated by the carbon-free hydro dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Carbon emissions are a problem. But we don’t believe it’s wise — or, indeed, necessary — to jeopardize Baker County’s future as we pursue a needed solution to that problem.