Food tourism is growing in popularity among travelers who
want to visit the farms and producers that grow, raise or manufacture what
winds up on their dinner plate. So why shouldn’t you be able to visit the place
that produces something almost as significant in your life—electricity?
On a windswept hillside 16 miles east of Ellensburg stands
Puget Sound Energy’s Renewable Energy Center, where visitors learn about wind
and solar power as well as gaze out on some of the 149 wind turbine and
solar-panel arrays scattered across the nearby ridges. Close to the wind
turbines, visitors get a much better sense of how massive these structures
are—351 feet to the tip of the blade when extended vertically.
The visitor center opened in April 2008 and Puget Sound
Energy expects to pass the 50,000 visitor mark this summer. It’s also popular
with school tours, hosting more than 75 a year.
Wind may be a growing part of the Northwest’s energy
portfolio, but its foundation has long been hydropower, and tourists can get a
close look at the Chelan County Public Utility District’s Rocky Reach Dam on
the Columbia River, which includes a museum and viewing balconies for the
powerhouse, spillway, fish ladders and the dam itself. Nearly 50,000 people
visited Rocky Reach in 2009.
Or tourists could head up the road and the river to the
giant of hydropower, Grand Coulee, where they can take a tour of the powerhouse
(including a ride on a steeply inclined elevator, outfitted with lots of glass
windows, that climbs and descends the concrete face of the powerhouse). On
summer nights, they can see a laser show projected on a screen of water pouring
down the face of the dam.
One long-standing and popular way for the public to see
electricity being made is no longer available, at least this year. Citing
budget constraints, Seattle City Light canceled the tours of its Skagit River