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Windfalls in Sherman County

In our July 8, 2011 post we wrote about new ordinances adopted in Umatilla County that severely limit where wind turbines can be constructed.  Property owners throughout the county have challenged the ordinances with an appeal at LUBA and oral argument is set for December 15th.  The tradeoff between green energy and aesthetics continues to be an ongoing debate in that locale.

Meanwhile, Sherman County has taken a different approach by embracing the development that captures the energy from gusts breezing through their backyards.  The Oregonian recently published the article, “Wind blows money into pockets of Sherman County residents,” describing the county’s decision to share the wealth when it comes to windfalls from turbine development (read the full article here.)  Although some community members may find the view of wind turbines less aesthetically pleasing than undeveloped high desert land, the county has attempted to give economic value to that impact. 

Under Sherman County’s agreements with the wind turbine companies, all county residents receive annual payments that are loosely modeled after dividend payments to Alaskans for oil running through the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. This year, payments to county residents will amount to $590 and the check is in the mail.  The county also gives its four tiny towns — Wasco, Moro, Rufus and Grass Valley — annual checks of $100,000 each with payments to extend through 2025. The county has invested wind revenues to build capital projects, including a new $2 million library in Moro and a $1 million for a building to house the Oregon State University Cooperative Extension Service, 4-H, planning and wheat district offices.

According to the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C., Sherman County produces 43 percent of Oregon’s 2,305 megawatts of wind power, and the multiple segments of the Biglow wind project on the county’s north end near Wasco constitute the nation’s eighth largest.

Profit sharing may be the wave of the future for some types of land uses when industry hopes to quell the concerns of the community.  And the Sherman County is an example of sharing the economic rewards of wind development, for a time.

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