Wind power playing a role in counties' economic growth

A new turbine project could bring even more jobs to the Columbia River Gorge area

The Associated Press /

Published Jul 23, 2012 at 05:00AM

PENDLETON — A 310-turbine project proposed on 61,000 acres near Heppner in Morrow County would produce up to 504 megawatts, according to its developer.

The East Oregonian reports that the wind-power project also would generate substantial lease payments for the landowners involved.

The Columbia River Gorge area led the state throughout the last three years in economic output and in employment, according to state economist Mark McMullen.

The region’s economic strength is due in part to its agricultural output and other industries. McMullen said growth in the wind industry has also played a role.

Many union jobs are involved either directly or indirectly in wind farm construction, said Oregon workforce and economic research economist Dallas Fridley.

“There is more going on than just the crews erecting the windmill components,” he said. “There are folks to do the road development. There are folks that have to go in and pour the concrete. Those are the type of opportunities that are easiest to see.”

In Gilliam County, home to most of the Shepherds Flat wind farm, construction wages shot up during its building phase. The total construction payroll in the county reached $11 million in 2011 and $10.8 million in 2010, Fridley said.

“These are pretty big impacts,” he said. “Gilliam County would be pretty lucky to break a million dollars almost any other year. When the projects have been completed, those jobs are going to go.”

If built, the proposed Heppner Wind Energy Project would create 25-30 permanent positions.

Chicago-based Invenergy, the developer of the proposed project, declined to comment on what it pays its employees. According to the Oregon Occupational Information Center, however, the average annual salary for wind-farm installation, maintenance and repair workers in the state is $42,901.

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