An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Palouse wind project seen as economic asset, but also dangerous to the environment

Jonbgem, via Flickr/Creative Commons

A proposed wind turbine project on the Palouse is being touted as a clean energy source that would furnish enough electricity to power 90,000 homes for a year. But some are residents aren't happy with the plan.

The company Steelhead Americas is thinking about building 45 wind turbines in an area west of Kamiak Butte. It says the Palouse site is ideal because it’s windy, and it’s close to existing electrical infrastructure. Steelhead Development Manager Shane Roche says the project would minimally affect the land’s primary use, which is farming.

"Of 15 thousand acres we are looking to lease, we might only use a total of 45 acres. We estimate about an acre per turbine," he said.

Roche says an economic analysis the company conducted shows a benefit of $80 million in tax revenue for Whitman County, and that building the turbines could create 450 new jobs.

But people who live in the area are concerned. A Facebook group opposed to the project has 1,500 members.

Rick McNannay lives in a restored farmhouse near Kamiak Butte. He worries that the wind turbines would mar the landscape’s scenic value. He says the structures might also create a fire hazard.

“During a windstorm, which is most of the time they catch fire, when they are spinning at high RPMs, you've got that flaming torch sitting right at the base of that heavily wooded hillside, Kamiak Butte. That to me seems like a recipe for disaster," he said.

Roche says turbine fires are relatively rare, and the technology is improving, with fail-safe mechanisms on board that are designed to put out any fires.

Roche says Steelhead Americas anticipates filing the wind project’s first permits at the end of the year with construction starting in 2026.