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Harnessing the wind at Wild Horse

By on June 22, 2020 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments
149 wind turbines are spaced out over 10,000 acres of shrub-steppe vegetation at the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and Renewable Energy Center.

A long-held wish to visit the wind farm finally turns into a wind-chill reality

story By Linda Reid

photos by ken reid

Something about those other-worldly wind turbines that dot the landscape has always fascinated me.

In our travels across Eastern Washington (and beyond), my husband Ken and I have always shared this preoccupation with wind farms whenever we see them, especially when they are turning in their hypnotizing rotations, like not-quite-synchronized, 3-winged, prehistoric birds.

We watch them on the distant hillsides coming off the southwest side of Blewett Pass. We have encountered them in the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington where they are planted in the wheat lands, or in pastures where flocks of wild turkeys gather.

The largest, most impressive cluster of wind turbines we have ever seen was in the California desert, coming into Palm Springs from the west.

However, our favorite view of these modern windmills is from the Wild Horses Monument Scenic Viewpoint off westbound I-90 just east of the bridge across the Columbia at Vantage.

Whenever we stop at this viewpoint, we repeat the following dialog: Ken, “I would love to take a tour of that wind farm.” Linda, “We should do that sometime.” Ken, “I’m going to call and look into it.” Linda, “I know they give tours. Mary and Dan took one years ago.”

Then we get back in the car and that is that.

The sustainable power of sun and wind.

But last fall he actually called the Renewable Energy Center at Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and we managed to get there for the last tour of the season, on Oct. 31.

Happily, there was not even a charge for the tour, and no reservations were required. They did require that we wear closed-toe shoes and be able to walk on uneven terrain for about a half mile. It was strongly suggested that we dress for the weather since the wind-chill factor could be substantial in late October (which it was!).

We began our visit at the Visitors’ Center where on a clear day you can enjoy the 360-degree panorama that includes views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Hood and the Columbia River Basin. It is also a great vantage point from which to see the 149 wind turbines carefully spaced out over 10,000 acres of shrub-steppe vegetation that comprises the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and Renewable Energy Center.

Wind turbine blade (129 feet long) “show and tell” with tour guide, Kristin.

The tour lasts for 60 minutes and every minute of it is interesting and educational — a field trip for all ages.

Our guide, Kristin, was a very knowledgeable intern from Central Washington University in Ellensburg who impressed us with her people skills, her scientific knowledge regarding wind energy technology, her passion for the sage-steppe and its flora and fauna, and her own personal connection to the land (she grew up riding horses there) and her respect for the traditions of the Native Americans who have lived on this land for centuries.

Kristin made an enjoyable experience even more so.

Our guided tour provided opportunities to explore the solar array (with its 2,723 panels), have a close-up look at a wind turbine blade (129 feet long, each weighing 7 tons), see a turbine generator and gear box, and look inside the base of an active wind turbine. (The towers are 221 feet high, weigh 104 tons, and are set in 32-foot-deep cement).

Wind power old and new on display at Wild Horse Renewable Energy Visitor Center.

Getting a first-hand look at how these elements are turned into electricity is awe-inspiring. The facility can generate up to 273 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to serve an average of 60,000 homes for a year.

One of the most interesting things I learned was that electricity from the turbines can be produced with wind speeds as low as 9 mph. Full operating capacity is reached when the wind ranges between 28-56mph. If winds are at a constant 56 mph or more, the turbines must be shut down to prevent damage.

This Puget Sound Energy facility came on-line in 2006 and expanded to what it is now in 2009. There are no further expansions planned.

Altogether, there are 20 wind farms in the state with three of them belonging to PSE. Our state continues to be a leader in generating power from renewable resources. At the same time there are benefits to the surrounding communities such as job creation, lease incomes for landowners, and significant local tax revenue.

Oct. 31 was a blustery day up on the ridge at Wild Horse, but that only enhanced our experience. Walking under these towering giants and listening to the rhythmic sound of their blades swooshing through the air made this place come alive for us.

We were not just “blown away” by the ingenuity behind this wind energy but by the stark beauty that surrounded us. PSE has managed these 10,000 acres with careful stewardship making sure wildlife habitats are well protected while allowing certain areas for recreational activities such as hiking, horseback riding and bird watching. Although the property opened for recreational use on the fifth of May this year, the Visitor Center and the guided tours will not re-start until the state reaches Phase 3 of the reopening criteria. 

When they do reopen, please do yourselves a favor and put this “field trip” on your “to do” list. We both give it a 5-star rating. 

For more information, or to book a tour (hopefully, later this summer), email wildhorse@pse.com or call (509) 964-7815. 

Linda and Ken live in East Wenatchee and enjoy the infinite possibilities for exploring their own backyard in NCW. 

A highlight of the tour for Ken and Linda included a visit inside one of the wind turbines (ground floor only).

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