Monday, June 20, 2011

The Columbia Gorge and Wind Power

Wind turbines on the high plains of north central Oregon.
A line of turbines can be seen on the distant horizon along the the Horse Heaven Hills in Washington State  

Crane working on a turbine. The green field is winter wheat that will be harvested in August

On my last trip east of the Cascade Range I got a close look at the new wind farms east of the Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River has carved a gap through the Cascade Mountains. The general flow of air in Washington State is from west to east. The gap created by the Columbia River allows for an area of concentrated air flow through the gorge to eastern Washington and eastern Oregon. This flow of air is further enhanced during sunny weather. As the warm sun heats the dry air in eastern Oregon and Washington the air rises creating a strong pressure gradient from west to east through the Columbia River Gorge. The gorge is famous for its high winds and an entire culture of wind lovers in the form of wind surfers has developed in the gorge communities. The town of Hood River is the center of this activity and spin offs such as Full Sail Ale have developed.

The gorge is designated as a National Scenic Area and wind turbines are not allowed as they would diminish the scenic value of the gorge. But just outside of the Scenic Area hundreds of wind turbines have been constructed. The Scenic Area ends just east of Wishram, Washington. On the high bluffs east of Wishram is the area where the wind turbines begin. Due to the topography and wind flow there are more turbines on the Oregon side of the river. But turbines are located on the Washington side of the river and follow the ridge line of the Horse Heaven Hills nearly to Walla Walla. A wind farm has been proposed just north of the gorge near Hood River on a ridge just outside the Scenic Area.

Columbia River at Biggs Junction and the Highway 97 Bridge. Note white caps on the river.
The cliffs in the foreground and across the river were formed during the Missoula Floods that filled the entire gorge in this area. 

With high water levels in the Columbia River system this year, the wind farms have been having trouble getting the electric energy generated to buyers. The hyrdo power turbines on the dam systems have been running at near full generation capacity to keep the rivers low and not to spill water. Although passing through the turbines is hard on small salmon, the nitrogen saturation of the water when spilling water over the dams is hard on the fish as well. When I crossed the river last week I observed that John Day dam was spilling water. The result is the demand for electricity is being more than met by the hydro dams at least for the time being and the wind farms are not able to sell all their power particularly during low demand periods.

Turbines on the Washington side of the river upstream of Biggs Junction

Spinning turbine from behind a ridge

I got a chance to listen to a turbine. Noise issues have been raised with wind turbines. For my simple experiment I was mostly out of the wind on the back slope below a spinning turbine. There was still some noise from the wind blowing at about 30 mile per hour. There was a very faint hum and swish from the turbine from about 400 feet away. I could not hear it when in the car. But noise propagation can be tricky and my single experiment is purely anecdotal.

1 comment:

Ed Anderson said...

Wind turbines are obvious eyesores passed off as clean and green by duped people or subsidy seekers.

Right now they "only" amount to a quarter million, with a fifth of them in the U.S. so far. It's bad enough to look at what exists today. Few average people seem to understand that several million are envisioned by the industry, globally. Rural lands and many mountains would become industrial parks, for mediocre carbon reduction.