A controversial 65-turbine wind farm proposed for 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg, rejected by Kittitas County last year, was recommended for approval on Tuesday by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, the first time the state agency has overridden a local government decision.
The recommendation by the seven-member state council is now subject to a 12-day review period during which the council can be asked to reconsider its decision on the wind farm planned by Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy, which first applied for state approval of the more than $150 million project in January 2003. In May 2006 county commissioners voted unanimously to reject the project after talks stalled with developers of the wind farm.
After 12 days the recommendation, approved on a 6-1 vote Tuesday, goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire who has 60 days to approve or reject it or remand it back to the council.
EFSEC Chairman Jim Luce, in calling for approval, said Horizon significantly downsized the project from earlier 150- and 121-turbine versions and made other changes to lessen its impacts, including moving turbine locations.
In addition, Luce said the council will require Horizon to increase the distance between turbines and property owners not leasing land to Horizon for turbine locations.
“The council has carefully considered potential visual impacts raised by residents in the affected area who are not participating in the development,” Luce said. “Significant setbacks from those non-participating residences are required, and shadow flicker will not be allowed.”
The required setbacks will be 1,520 feet or 1,640 feet, depending on the height of turbine constructed. The site is on ridges on both sides of U.S. Highway 97.
Opponents of the 6,000-acre site, after the vote, said they will study the agency’s majority decision and weigh their legal options, including calling on EFSEC to reconsider its decision or file an appeal in county superior court. They argue a wind farm will be incompatible with the growing number of rural homes and future home sites in the area, and will destroy the scenic views, as well as reduce property values.
“I’d like to have any of the EFSEC people here tonight live in the middle of a wind farm like some of us will have to,” said Linda Schantz of Robbins Road, a spokeswoman for Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines. “This will really prompt people to sell and leave the county, if they can.”
Schantz said most ROKT supporters are not against wind farms but oppose locations that are in areas used for rural home development.
Pleased with the outcome was Chris Taylor, Horizon’s director of project development, who became involved in the project in 2002.
“It’s been a long, very thorough review,” Taylor said after the EFSEC vote. “This is probably the most heavily scrutinized wind farm proposal in the country, and everyone has had opportunities to have their say.”
If finally approved by the governor, construction could start next spring and the wind farm would be operational by the end of 2008.
Horizon last year asked EFSEC to lay aside the county’s rejection and assert its legal authority to approve the project over the county’s objections. Taylor said Horizon was not eager to seek this course but felt it was necessary when county officials couldn’t spell out exactly what was required for approval.
“We believe the record clearly shows the project will have no unavoidable, adverse impacts,” Taylor said.
Kittitas County Commissioner Alan Crankovich, in the audience during the vote, said county officials will be considering their legal options in light of the decision. They rejected the wind farm because it was incompatible with the surrounding land use.
“If the governor ultimately approves the project this will render our local government process meaningless,” Crankovich said. “It sets a precedent that shows state agencies can overturn a valid, lawful land-use decision made in a viable, local county process.
“I don’t think that’s right.”
More information on the EFSEC decision will appear in a story on Thursday.
By Mike Johnston
28 March 2007
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