Wind Energy Investment Makes Sherman County Economy Hum

Wind energy companies have poured more than $17 million in property taxes, fees and strategic investments into Sherman County, according to a 2011 assessment of wind's impact on the rural area.

The $1 billion Biglow Canyon wind project completed in 2010 by Portland General Electric (PGE) in the county is the eighth largest in the nation. Biglow, the company's largest renewable energy project, includes 217 turbines and is expected to produce an average of about 150 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 125,000 homes.

Oregon ranked fourth nationally in wind generation capacity with 3,153 Megawatts (Mw) generating capacity on line by late 2012. Oregon also ranked fifth nationwide for the amount of wind energy capacity installed in 2012 with 845 megawatts of production capacity added.

As a result of wind power development, county residents have received more than $1 million through the Sherman County's Resident Compensation Program, which pays $590 to heads of households as a means of sharing surplus revenue and encouraging a positive outlook on new development, according to the study. County officials said the county saves between 20% and 30% of the revenue it receives from wind in a rainy day fund and is using it to make long-term investments that can pay off over the years, as the value and thus tax receipts from wind farms decline.

"I think it tells us that wind is the only thing that is going to save rural Oregon, especially since all the timber is gone and sawmills and all that are closing down," Sherman County Judge Gary Thompson told Sustainable Business Oregon. "I think what it is a breath of fresh air."

The investments come from Iberdrola Renewables and PGE, which operate a total of eight wind farms in the Columbia Plateau in Sherman County. Iberdrola Renewables owns six of Sherman County's eight wind farms and has made more than $1 billion in investment in equipment placed there.

The Sherman County projects, which began operating in 2002, have resulted in significant public investment in the county. The county's taxing districts have seen additional support from property tax paid by wind farms. Money from wind development has also been used for capital projects like construction of new public buildings, including a school and library and new city halls in Moro and Grass Valley. It also has helped purchase new computers and musical instruments at schools, provided support for teachers and launched a renewable energy technician program at Columbia Gorge Community College.

Sherman County has a population of about 1,800, 65% of whom are senior citizens living on fixed incomes. In addition to boosting the county's annual revenues from about $315,000 in 2002 to $10 million in 2010, the wind industry also has brought eight jobs per 100 megawatts, or about 80 jobs for the 1,000 megawatts of wind power now installed.

Wind power manufacturers like Vestas and Iberdrola Renewables have already chosen Oregon for their North American headquarters, as well as to manage wind farms in the Columbia Gorge and Eastern Oregon hills. Oregon currently has 1,920 MW of operational wind farms, with 3,000 MW more either under construction or approved for development. Oregon's growing wind energy sector is poised for even faster growth in the future.