A state agency told developers of the Desert Claim wind farm proposal on Tuesday they have 90 days to work with Kittitas County officials to bring their project into compliance with county land-use rules.
Members of the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, voted unanimously Tuesday to declare the 90-turbine project as inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive land-use plan and zoning code.
Adam Torem, EFSEC’s administrative law judge, at the conclusion of a public hearing in Ellensburg, said the company seeking the project, French-owned EnXco Inc., acknowledged the proposal for north of Ellensburg has not been approved by the county.
He said the county and several speakers at the hearing also agreed the project, though scaled-down from a previous 120-turbine proposal, doesn’t comply with county land-use rules.
“The clock is ticking; the applicant has 90 days to get permission from the county for the project,” Torem said.
Torem said Desert Claim, in the next 30 to 60 days, will likely decide on its next course of action, and must report this to EFSEC.
David Steeb, Desert Claim’s project director, after the hearing, said he couldn’t comment on the exact nature of the company’s next step, though he said EnXco will ask EFSEC at some point to preempt the county’s involvement in the state review process.
Preemption would mean EFSEC laying aside any county decision on the project and make its own determination whether the project meets local county standards.
Steeb said the wind farm is compatible with the county’s Agricultural-20 and Forest & Range-20 zoning in the 4,800-acre project area eight miles northwest of Ellensburg.
“There are people in the county who believe this project is compatible with the rural nature of the project area, with farming and ranching and with the existing transmission lines in the area,” Steeb said. “The project will supply real benefits to the state and the county, and will generate renewable energy that’s needed now.
“That’s why we seek preemption. That’s why preemption is necessary.”
Darryl Piercy, Kittitas County’s director of Community Development Services, told EFSEC that Desert Claim’s 90-turbine proposal is a new project and must come before the county for review, in accordance with EFSEC rules.
He said the citizens of the county deserve to have it scrutinized by local government.
“We are anxious to bring this project through the county’s process,” Piercy said.
There are two ways for wind farm developers to gain approval of a project: file with local county government, or seek approval through EFSEC, though EFSEC requires local government approval as part of its review process.
EnXco officials first applied to the county for approval of a 120-turbine project at the same site but that larger project was rejected by county commissioners in April 2005. A county superior court judge later upheld that decision after EnXco appealed it.
In early November 2006, EnXco filed with EFSEC in hopes of better treatment for a downsized 90-turbine project that was consolidated on fewer acres with taller, larger turbines. The firm also is proposing changes it says will reduce noise and the possibility of shadow flicker on residential property.
By Mike Johnston
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