Kittitas County may be on a collision course with a state council order regarding the county’s process that reviews and permits wind farms.
County officials continue to require the Desert Claim Wind Power Project to file a complete application with the county for a 90-turbine wind farm despite a May 8 order by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council that ruled that filing an application with the county is not necessary.
“The county maintains that EFSEC does not have the legal authority to rule that the county’s rules and regulations can be ignored,” said Darryl Piercy, director of the county Community Development Services Department.
“We are talking with Desert Claim representatives on their project, but we still hold that for the county to formally review this project an application must be filed.
“An unelected state council doesn’t have the authority to say we have to ignore our codes.”
The Desert Claim project, planned for eight miles northwest of Ellensburg, is proposed by EnXco USA Inc., which filed for project approval from EFSEC and the governor in November.
On May 8, EFSEC ruled, in response to an EnXco motion, that EnXco has already fulfilled state law requiring it to make reasonable and good faith efforts to resolve inconsistencies between the project’s impact and county land-use rules.
EFSEC also ruled that the county’s wind farm review ordinance duplicates the state’s approval process, usurping its authority for project approval, which it believes takes priority over local government rules.
The state council, though, called on Desert Claim officials to work with the county until June 30 to resolve issues surrounding the wind farm. At that time, EFSEC ruled, EnXco can decide to file for pre-emption, meaning it can ask EFSEC to rule for itself if the project conflicts with county land-use codes.
This would lay aside the county’s previous rejection of the wind farm. Such a determination by EFSEC would come as the result of formal EFSEC hearings also involving county officials.
Piercy said Desert Claim officials met with county staff May 17 and had a positive discussion about the wind farm and the changes that have been made to clear up concerns the county has with the project. He said the county maintained, though, that Desert Claim needs to file a full application to begin formal review of the project.
Piercy said Desert Claim asked for a public meeting with county commissioners to discuss the project directly, but commissioners later “respectfully” declined saying such a meeting may cause the public to believe the commissioners have prejudged the project outside formal public hearings. Desert Claim was requested to file an application.
A June 1 letter from Desert Claim officials thanked the county for the May 17 session, and recognized that some changes have apparently addressed county concerns, but that there is a difference of opinion regarding the setback distance between turbines and existing residences.
The Desert Claim letter indicated company officials were disappointed that county commissioners would not meet with them directly, and were trying to respond to a Dec. 6, 2006, commissioner request to discuss the project at a public meeting.
By Mike Johnston
6 June 2007
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