Grazing and Wind together in Ellensburg

wind farm on state trust landAs you drive through the Kittitas Valley along I-90 you will see the blades of wind towers turning gently in the ever-present breeze that Ellensburg is known for. Located at the base of the Cascades, the windy city of the dry side of Washington State has become a leader in producing renewable energy with the power of the wind.

In 2006, Kittitas Valley became the home to the Wild Horse Wind Power Project, the first of three such projects in the valley. The site, located north of the Vantage Highway and 12 miles east of Ellensburg, has 149 turbines – 34 of them are on state trust land managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Just across the Vantage Highway, to the south of the Wild Horse Wind Power Project, is the Invenergy Wind Power project consisting of 64 turbines, 13 of which are on DNR-managed state trust land. North of Ellensburg is the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project in which 13 of the 48 turbines are on state trust land.

All three projects are on land historically leased by DNR for grazing, and on which grazing leases continue to be managed. Recreation activities such as elk and deer hunting continue to be enjoyed, along with hiking, bird watching, horseback riding and exploring.

The wind power projects on state land in Kittitas County not only generate clean energy, they are a significant revenue source for the beneficiaries of the state trust lands. Thanks to the wind power projects, revenue generated from these state lands has gone from less than the dollar-per acre that grazing alone provided to more than $200 an acre per year. In high wind years, annual revenues have reached as high as $500 per acre. In 2012, DNR and the Common School Trust for K-12 school construction received total rental income of $630,949 from these grazing and wind leases.

In partnership with citizens and governments, DNR strives to provide innovative leadership and expertise to ensure environmental protection, public safety, perpetual funding for schools and communities and a rich quality of life. Through our sustainable management of resources entrusted to our care, future generations will have opportunities to enjoy and benefit from Washington’s rich natural heritage.

 by Tammy Yeakey, Southeast Region