Judge Gary Thompson of Sherman County Court to the New York Times, “Wind is the only thing that is going to save rural Oregon, especially since all the timber is gone and the sawmills and all that are closing down. I think what it is, is a breath of fresh air.”
The Columbia Gorge region is a natural wind tunnel. The first wind farm was built in 2002, earning Sherman County $315,000 in property taxes. In 2010, the income had grown to approximately $3 million. Over the last nine years, taxes, fees, and assessments on more than 1,000 megawatts of wind turbine capacity have amounted to $17.5 million.
Sherman County has less than two thousand residents and just four towns—Wasco, Moro, Rufus and Grass Valley—which are prospering. Money earned from the wind turbines has been used to build a library, two new city halls, sewers and a bridge. Schools have also benefited, getting new computers, musical instruments, robotics equipment, and pay for a new teacher to instruct the most gifted of its 124 students.
“Right now, when many districts around the state are gutting everything, we don’t have to,” says Ivan Ritchie, superintendent of the Sherman County School District and principal of Sherman Elementary School in Grass Valley.
Judge Thompson says the $590 payments reward residents who have made no financial gains from wind energy development, but whose views of Mount Adams and the county’s natural landscape have been altered by the turbines. “It’s modeled after a lot of Alaska compensation. There are a lot of people who live in the county who are not necessarily going to benefit from the renewable energy, and we felt we needed to share it with all the county residents.”
The Wind Farm is now Sherman County’s largest employer. In order to train locals to fill the jobs being created, the Columbia Gorge Community College now offers a renewable energy technician program that has trained 135 students from Sherman and surrounding counties.