September 14, 2006

Should state take over local wind farm decision?

County says “˜no,’ company says “˜yes’

By Mike Johnston

The major sticking point surrounding Horizon Wind Energy’s planned wind farm northwest of Ellensburg comes to this: should state government override Kittitas County’s rejection of the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project and consider approving it?

The wind farm developer and project supporters say yes; Kittitas County officials and opponents of the site 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg say no.

County commissioners on June 6 voted unanimously to deny approval of the project stating that plans to lessen the wind farm’s impact were not enough to make it compatible with the surrounding property.

On June 20, Horizon Wind Energy, the Houston-based wind-power development company proposing the wind farm, called on the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, to pre-empt the county decision.

Horizon wants EFSEC to make its own decision whether the project can comply, or become consistent, with Kittitas County land-use rules.

EFSEC, after up to two weeks of hearings in Ellensburg starting Monday, will form a recommendation on the project and give it to the governor who makes the final decision.

Horizon maintains that provisions in state law allow the state in this project to lay aside the county decision, and give the state authority to make its own determination whether to allow the 65-turbine project on both sides of U.S. Highway 97 and spread on 6,000 acres.

The company claims the county’s overly restrictive requirements are not supported in impact studies and its convoluted review process, along with unnecessarily wide buffers around turbines, make the project economically unfeasible.

Horizon, in documents filed with EFSEC, said the region’s need for more clean power overrides the county’s decision, and that the county’s wind farm review process doesn’t meet the state’s policies for expedited review that’s not duplicated.

“Kittitas County has shown little or no interest in meeting these state policies,” stated a Horizon legal declaration. “It has created largely duplicative, time consuming and highly complex licensing and (environmental) compliance processes that provide none of the predictability needed for planning renewable energy facilities … ”

Kittitas County officials contend EFSEC doesn’t have the legal authority under the state Growth Management Act to “bulldoze” its way over the act and override the county commissioners’ decision to reject the wind farm.

“The county has complied with all state land-use regulations on this,” said Jim Hurson, the county’s chief civil prosecutor. “We don’t believe the applicant acted in good faith to resolve the issues brought up by the county.”

When county commissioners asked Horizon to consider setbacks or buffers wider than those proposed by the company, Horizon said it would reduce the project to, perhaps, only 30 turbines, not enough to make it economically viable.

Hurson said there are alternative locations for Horizon’s project.

“This wind farm doesn’t meet the state’s interests for approval, given the major zoning and land-use issues it creates and in light of the relatively minor amount of power it will produce,” Hurson said.

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