Wind blows money into pockets of Sherman County residents
Roughly 550 wind turbines rearing 300-plus feet into the breezy high desert sky have brought dramatic changes here. Twelve wind farms are now on line, producing 1,000 megawatts of alternative energy -- enough to power 100,000 homes -- and providing the county government with $9 million annual revenues
Every household in windswept Sherman County will soon get a Christmas gift in the mail: a $590 check.
The lonesome 831-square-mile county may lay to rest the adage about an "ill wind blowing nobody any good." This is the third consecutive year that checks will go out for the people's share of annual wind-energy revenues.
No other Oregon county makes similar payments and the $416,540 cash outlay may be unprecedented in the United States, says John Audley, spokesman for Renewable Northwest Project. His Portland-based coalition of companies and groups promotes renewable energy.
The checks are loosely modeled after dividend payments to Alaskans for oil gurgling through the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. The county also gives its four tiny towns -- Wasco, Moro, Rufus and Grass Valley -- annual checks of $100,000 each.
Under the county's agreement with the wind companies, the payments will continue until 2025.
Officials in nearby counties sometimes express "shock that we are giving that much money to residents," says Judge Gary Thompson, chairman of the county's governing commissioners.
But the county leaders figured regular folks deserved a cut of the windfall for having to look at the gigantic structures -- not just the 35 or so landowners who reap payments from the companies for allowing wind turbines on their wheat farms. The property owners receive an average of $6,000 a year per wind turbine -- and some have up to 30 on their wheat farms.
"We felt if you are going to live with these wind turbines, people should benefit from them somehow," Thompson says.