Last summer my wife and I took a road trip to Eastern Washington for a hike, and stumbled upon the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility located outside of Ellensburg. We weren’t expecting to see much, but stopped by the Visitor’s Center and found the experience really interesting. The facility spans 10,000 acres and includes 149 wind turbines generating up to 273 megawatts, as well as a solar PV installation that can generate an additional 502 kilowatts. That’s enough to power 63,000 homes.
We happened to visit on a day that included a wine tasting event and nature walk. After enjoying some excellent samplings of local sauvignon blanc and rose, we took a short half mile hike with a local botanist, who pointed out some of the native wildflowers that were just finishing their short burst of spring color.
The area is also one of the few places in Washington that one can find the Hedgehog Cactus. Our guide mentioned that during construction of the wind turbines, any cacti found at the location were carefully removed and transplanted a safe distance away. In addition, the wildflowers and sagebrush in the area attract herds of elk, which can be seen grazing underneath the turbines, paying no attention to the slight whooshing sound overhead.
Standing beside a turbine, staring out over Kittitas County, I couldn’t help but think about how no one would ever be able to tour a fossil fuel burning power plant like this. Nobody looks for wildflowers near the smokestacks, or samples wine behind the furnaces. We know that these power plants are dirty and don’t want to inhabit the space close to them. But as long as they are built out of sight (or in someone else’s backyard), we’re accustomed to not thinking about where our energy comes from.
To me, the Wild Horse facility demonstrates that with careful design and construction, it’s possible for a landscape to be utilized for use by humans and wildlife. This one area serves as an ecosystem, a recreational center, and a clean energy generator all at once. It’s a great example of a sustainable, balanced use of resources. And the wine wasn’t bad either!