KITTITAS, Wash. – Greg and Barb Tudor left their suburban Bellevue neighborhood for solitude and open sky in eastern Kittitas County. It was the perfect antidote, they said, to years of gray drizzle and congestion.
From their retirement home on a ridge, the Tudors look out over thousands of acres of sagebrush-covered landscape. The wind gusting over the nearby hills carries the aromatic tang of desert plants, and at night the sky is often dark enough to see the Milky Way.
When the developer that sold the Tudors their $500,000 home and acreage proposed an 80-turbine wind farm on nearby land, the couple were shocked.
“We’re devastated that our developer, after creating this pristine residential community, now aims to spoil our scenery with monstrous wind turbines,” the Tudors wrote in a letter to the Kittitas County Planning Department. “There is no way to blend an industrial development and its army of giant, whirling, flashing towers into the landscape.”
The Tudors and their neighbors banded together to fight the new wind project. Within days, they had organized a group – Kittitas Residents Opposing Wind-farm Sprawl – created a website and began collecting signatures.
Wind projects are facing greater scrutiny in rural America, with residents voicing concerns about the impact of turbines on property values, scenic vistas and even physical health.
New York physician Nina Pierpont coined the term “wind turbine syndrome,” which she describes as interrupted sleep, headaches, tinnitus, nausea and other problems resulting from exposure to the low-frequency noise emitted by turbines.
“They say wind energy is a great thing. It doesn’t use fossil fuels and it doesn’t emit pollution. So why not?” said Eric Rosenbloom, president of National Wind Watch Inc., which runs a website devoted to getting out information about the negative impacts of wind turbines. “Most people are not aware of how absolutely huge these things are. …They’re designed to stop the wind, so there’s no way they can’t produce a lot of noise.”
The science of measuring dispersed sound at wind farms is still developing, Rosenbloom said. “It’s a new noise, and standards haven’t really been set to regulate it.”
However, he said, doctors who study the issue recommend at least 1 1/4 miles between turbines and homes. That appears to be the minimum distance needed to prevent sleep interruptions and other physical problems from noise, Rosenbloom said.
Some areas have adopted even stricter zoning regulations. Eastern Oregon’s Umatilla County recently passed an ordinance requiring wind turbines to be at least two miles from the closest residence.
In Kittitas County, opposition to the proposed 80-turbine wind farm centered on open vistas, property values and potential impacts to a prehistoric archaeological site known as She-lo-an, where Mid-Columbia tribes held spring gatherings.
More than 800 pages of public comments – mostly in opposition – were submitted to the Kittitas County Planning Department on the wind development proposed by Columbia Plateau Energy LLC.
After an emotional hearing in October, county commissioners voted 3-0 to turn down the developer’s request to amend the county’s 500-square-mile wind overlay zone to include the proposed wind farm. Designed to concentrate wind development in Kittitas County’s less populated eastern end, the overlay zone allows projects within its boundaries to go through a faster permitting process.
“They were talking about a line on the map, but we knew there was a wind farm right behind it,” said Harland Radomske, 73, one of the leaders of Kittitas Residents Opposing Wind-farm Sprawl. “If we hadn’t got it stopped, we’d have had one 1,500 feet from my bedroom.”
Radomske, a rodeo champion and retired engineering contractor, raises cattle and cutting horses on his 1,000-acre ranch, Venture Farms.
He said he’s puzzled by the big push for wind energy. Northwest utilities already have the nation’s lowest carbon emissions because of the existing hydropower dams, he said.
“The people in favor are not directly affected,” Radomske said of wind development. “Nobody in their right mind would buy 20 acres or 50 acres with a 400-foot turbine in the back end of it.”