Views, wind turbines draw in visitors near Ellensburg

August 16, 2017 GMT

Visitors to the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility near Ellensburg got a rare chance to take a twilight tour of a wind turbine on Saturday as part of a Perseid meteor shower event.

Debbie Lentz and her husband drove from West Richland to take advantage of the opportunity, even though the skies were clearer at home.

“I’ve always been curious about them,” Lentz said about the turbines. “It’s really neat that they allow tours. You don’t get to see that often.”

During the tour the Lentz said they learned lots of fascinating things about turbines, including that the supports for the base of the turbines can run as deep as 30 feet underground.

Twilight tours and kids activities during the Perseid meteor shower were the brainchild of last year’s crop of interns, and something the visitor center wanted to keep going, Education Coordinator Andrea Nesbitt said.

This year’s kids activities included “painting your own constellation” and making a nebula in a bottle with paint, cotton balls and glitter.

The visitor center has been offering activities for children throughout the summer, including making solar ovens and weather vanes. An archeology adventure is set for this Saturday.

Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility opened in 2005 and sits on 10,800 acres of land on Vantage Highway east of Ellensburg. About 190 acres are used by the company to accommodate the 149 turbines on the property. The wind farm is one of three Puget Sound Energy owns and operates in the state.

Each year, about 15,000 people pass through the visitor center during the 7 1/2 months the wind farm is open to the public. The center offers two to five tours each day. Since April 1, more than 10,000 people have toured the facility. Wild Horse is the only wind farm in the nation to allow free tours without reservations as well as the only wind farm to allow tourists inside a real, functional turbine, staff said.

The tourism turbine “C-2” is a Vestas v-80 turbine with a tower standing 230 feet tall. Tour guides warn visitors with pacemakers to wait outside due to extremely powerful magnets that hold a ladder to the top of the tower on the back wall. Drilling any holes in the three solid steel sections that make up the tower would create weak spots. The supports for the base run nearly 30 feet underground, but some can run deeper depending on the type of the ground the turbine is built on.

When the towers were assembled, the pieces were shipped from Europe and arrived on ships through the Port of Longview. From there, they were loaded onto trucks and driven along the Columbia River and up through the Tri-Cities area to Ellensburg.

The energy generated in part from Wild Horse powers 60,000-70,000 homes in the region.

Hunting on PSE land

Every year, PSE allows hunters onto 9,000 acres during the season. This year Wild Horse Wind Farm, PSE and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are utilizing the “hunt by reservation” system for the nine days of modern firearm elk season.

During those nine days, 50 hunters per day will be allowed onto Wild Horse Wild Farm property for the allotted hunting day.

Nesbitt said the reason for this change is not only to track the number of hunters who use Wild Horse Wind Farm land during the season, but also to improve the safety of their technicians and the quality of hunting.

Aside from those nine days, hunters will still be able to use the land as they normally would following the regular guidelines for hunting set forth by Wild Horse, PSE and WDFW.

For more information on hunting on Wild Horse Wind Farm land visit: http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/hunting_access/private_lands/hunt/292.