There’s a lot of wind in Kittitas County, Washington. Kittitas County is east of the Cascade Mountains. East of Ellensburg, 110 windmills already are operating as part of the Wind Horse Wind Farm. More are on the way.
Just like with building any large facility for energy, be it nuclear, coal, natural gas, or hydropower, there are changes and impacts to local communities. Weighting these local impacts against statewide significance is not always easy. But windmills aren’t nuclear power plants.
Still its not necessarily surprising that local Kittitas County Commissioners last year rejected another wind project near Ellensburg called the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project.
However the local commissioners did not have the final say. Energy projects of statewide significance are approved on the state level by EFSEC – the Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council. EFSEC on a 6 to 1 vote subsequently approved the project to build 65 windmills, overruling the local land use decision. In a nod to local concerns they only gave approval to about half the number originally proposed.
However now Governor Gregoire has asked EFSEC to re-evaluate whether a setback of 1600 feet from residences could be increased while still keeping the projects viable. Kate Riley, an editorial columnist for the Seattle Times, wrote a column entitled “Wind-farm storm shouldn’t blow governor off course” She’s right.
The Governor may be trying to cater to local concerns but we’re not talking about putting a coal plant or a nuclear plant in someone’s back yard. The Governor should go along with the EFSEC decision – the wind plants will create 125 new jobs in Kittitas County while not adding more CO2 to the atmosphere or producing nuclear waste that will be around for hundreds of thousands of years.
Last year Washington state votes passed the Clean Energy Initiative, Initiative 937, to promote renewable energy like wind power. The voters want to move forward and if Governor Gregoire wants to micromanage where every individual wind mill goes she is moving backward not forward.
As noted in an article in the Seattle PI by Helen Wise of Ellensburg and Sara Patton of the Northwest Energy Coalition
many were shocked when the governor failed to confirm state regulators’ endorsement of a well-sited wind energy project near Ellensburg. The state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council had voted 6-1 for Horizon Wind Energy’s proposed Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project. The project had passed every environmental test and Horizon had halved the number of turbines to address some local residents’ concerns.
The governor wants EFSEC to investigate an issue already addressed during the five-year process — the economic feasibility of greatly increasing the distance between clean energy-generating turbines and outside properties. Horizon officials testified during the EFSEC and earlier county proceedings that doing so would kill the project.
The governor’s remand jeopardizes the many benefits the project would bring to Kittitas County residents, which only begin with direct payments to project landowners. A Kittitas Economic Development Group report says the wind farm would increase county property tax revenues more than $1 million annually — a 5 percent rise — and create 125 full- and part-time jobs.
The move is also a threat to state and regionwide interests. The Kittitas Valley project is the first proposed renewable-energy development to come before the governor since voters approved the state’s clean-energy Initiative 937.”
One has to wonder what’s up? Other wind projects are also in the pipeline to be considered. Governor Gregoire needs to be clear about the value of these projects in producing clean energy and not increasing global warming. She is sending the wrong message questioning a 6 to 1 decision by EFSEC that already reduced significantly the approved number of viable wind turbines.