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Governor gets wind farm recommendation

Gov. Chris Gregoire, starting Wednesday, has 60 days to make a final decision on whether to approve the 65-turbine Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project, a wind farm proposed for 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg.

The governor’s office at 3 p.m. Wednesday received formal documents from the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council that recommended approval of the $150 million project planned by Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy for ridge tops on both sides of state Highway 97.

State Council Chairman Jim Luce said receipt of the recommendation and supporting documents starts a 60-day period during which Gregoire must approve the project, deny it or send it back to EFSEC for review of all or part of the proposal.

EFSEC members concluded adjudicative hearings on the proposal in September and on March 27 voted 6-1 to recommend approval. The majority of members believed the project was compatible with county rules and zoning and set the size of buffer zones between turbines and homes of people not involved in leasing land for the project.

The state council also said the county’s wind farm ordinance conflicts with state laws governing EFSEC and, in effect, usurps the state council’s authority to have priority over local government rules.

The March 27 decision was the first time in EFSEC’s history that it had overruled a local government land-use decision on a major power-generating project.

Kittitas County last year in hearings rejected the project claiming Horizon officials prematurely halted negotiations to make the wind farm more compatible with surrounding land uses.

After the March 27 recommendation of approval, county officials asked the state council to reconsider their decision. EFSEC last Friday rejected reconsideration saying the county and others didn’t raise any new issues.

State lawmakers representing Kittitas County in Olympia have asked the governor for a public meeting before her to allow both sides to present more detailed information on the project’s impacts before she makes a decision. State Rep. Bill Hinkle said he has not heard a reply from the governor’s office on the request.

Kittitas County Commission Chairman Alan Crankovich said the county has done all it can do, at this point, to exercise local government control over county land-use decisions involving wind farms. He supports a meeting with the governor and said the commissioners also have asked Gregoire for such a session.

“If she ultimately approves the wind farm, well, we’ll have to explore other options,” said Crankovich who declined to speculate on the options. “It’s a huge decision.”

He said the governor in approving another project, the Wild Horse wind farm east of Ellensburg, said wide public support was necessary for the siting of wind farms. He said the Kittitas Valley project doesn’t yet have that support.

Crankovich said the county contends that the state’s Growth Management Act and other laws give local government decisions priority over state government.

By Mike Johnston
Senior Writer


3 May 2007