Officials of an international wind-energy company won’t share details just yet of their proposed wind farm east of Ellensburg, but said they are “very interested” in a Kittitas County plan to create a zone on the county’s east end designated as compatible for wind farm development.
Michael Logsdon, director of business development for Invenergy Wind LLC in the Pacific Northwest, earlier this week said he may be able to announce more about the project once the county approves the new zone.
Chicago-based Invenergy has been studying the site more than 20 miles east of Ellensburg since fall 2004. Logsdon acknowledged the site is within the proposed zone.
“The county is considering to rezone the area to allow wind farms through a more streamlined process,” said Logsdon. “We’re very interested in the zone and are waiting for the outcome.”
County planning officials, who met with Invenergy representatives May 21, said the company is looking at a wind farm with about 55 turbines.
County commissioners will examine the proposal to create a pre-identified area for wind farms during three days of public hearings that begin 6 p.m. Monday in Teanaway Hall, or the Home Arts Building, at the county fairgrounds. Hearings continue Wednesday and Thursday. The proposal is part of a long list of suggested changes to the county’s development regulations as recommended by the county Planning Commission.
The new zone would not replace the existing county wind farm resource overlay zone ordinance that now allows wind-power developers to attempt to gain project approvals for nearly any rural area of the county. According to a county map of the zone, the pre-identified area designated as generally compatible for wind farms takes in more than 500 square miles on the east end of the county and along the Columbia River.
The existing wind farm ordinance requires developers to face scrutiny of their wind farm plans in an environmental impact statement and in public hearings before the county Planning Commission and the county commissioners. They must gain approval of a zone change that takes in their project area and a change in the county comprehensive plan. In addition, a development agreement must be approved along with a development permit.
Under the new proposal, an optional process would allow developers to seek approval for a site within the pre-approved area. A variety of environmental studies will be required, along with approval of a site plan and development agreement from county commissioners. Hearings, however, would only be before the commissioners.
Not required would be a rezone of the project area and a change in the county’s comprehensive plan.
Some support the new zone, others are concerned. Ellensburg businessman and wind-power development supporter Desmond Knudson said he has objections.
“The new zone, as it stands now, would give one area of the county an unfair advantage or a preference over others to get wind farms and the taxes that come from them,” Knudson said earlier this week. “I suspect companies will first look to develop in the new zone rather than any place else in the county.”
He said requests were made during Planning Commission hearings to extend the zone to include county lands along east-to-west high-voltage powerline corridors. Knudson said the corridors were not included.
He said local government taxing districts within the new zone would reap financial benefits from wind farm projects, instead of a wider area of the county potentially gaining projects.
Linda Schantz, a member of Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines, said she hasn’t seen details of the new zone on the county’s east end, but she was “certainly totally in favor of the concept.” Other members of the citizen advocacy group, she said, are likely in favor of it knowing many want to see wind farms out of the Kittitas Valley and in the sparsely populated east county area.
“It makes people wanting to buy land in the zone aware of the possibility of being next to a wind farm,” Schantz said.
Although Invenergy since October 2004 has been examining the site 20 to 25 miles east of Ellensburg between Vantage Highway and Interstate 90, Logsdon said the company is waiting on possible approval of the new zone. He declined to give details about the wind farm proposal, but said it would be southeast of Puget Sound Energy’s Wild Horse wind farm.
He said environmental studies are under way at the site that looks at the project’s impact on plant and wildlife habitat, birds and cultural resources.
The company earlier indicated in late 2006 that it had completed agreements to possibly buy or lease the land for the wind farm.
Logsdon said Invenergy will soon open an office in Portland, Ore., to advance wind projects in Washington, Oregon and California.
“The climate for wind-power development is good in the Northwest,” he said.
By Mike Johnston
9 June 2007
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