BICKLETON — At the Bluebird Inn, social center for this unincorporated town of about 90 residents, old-timers still spin stories of eastern Klickitat County’s glory days as a Wild West outpost. Washington’s oldest continuously operating saloon, built in 1882, survived a series of fires that ravaged the downtown area. It still has its original plank floors and vintage pool table.
In the old days, the tavern hosted all-day poker games and branding parties and even had a barbershop. Women weren’t allowed inside until the late 1960s.
But these days, the chatter at the Bluebird Inn is likely to be about the latest out-of-town energy company looking to lease land from local farmers, the newest wind turbines going up out on East Road, or this week’s road closures to accommodate the tractor-trailer rigs that shuttle the sleek white tower sections and turbine blades from ports in Vancouver, Longview and Everett to this sea of dryland wheat above the Columbia River.
Eastern Klickitat County’s wind energy boom has utterly transformed the landscape. In the past four years, 624 wind turbines have risen along the crest of the Columbia Hills and on ridges south and east of this town of 90, each the height of a 41-story building as measured from the ground to the tip of the highest turbine blade. That number is likely to reach 1,000 when and if all the projects that are under construction or working their way through the permitting process come on line.
The gusty Gorge winds that set those turbine blades spinning have the capacity to generate more than 1,200 megawatts of power once all the wind farms under construction in Klickitat County are generating electricity — enough to serve about 300,000 homes. That’s more than the generating capacity of Portland General Electric’s Trojan nuclear power plant, which closed in 1993, or about five natural gas-fired plants, such as the River Road plant operated by Clark Public Utilities.