A wind-power company on Tuesday warned that any further reduction in the number of turbines for the proposed Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project will increase the price of its power output and hurt its ability to compete economically in the power-sales market.
Cutting more turbines from the project will be required, according to Horizon Wind Energy officials, if the state orders a lengthening of the distance between turbine towers and existing homes of people not participating in the project through leasing their land to the wind farm.
Opponents of locating the 65-turbine wind farm 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg told the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council that the current 1,640-foot setback in the $150 million project is inadequate, and a 2,500-foot setback should be a starting point for consideration.
Wind farm supporters said the 1,640-foot setback, contained in EFSEC’s March 27 recommendation to approve the wind farm, is more than adequate. They said the project should be given the final OK by the governor for construction as soon as possible.
EFSEC members on Tuesday took comments in Ellensburg as it struggled to answer a question posed to them by Gov. Chris Gregoire in a June 22 letter: Can lengthened setbacks be achieved while allowing the project to remain economically viable?
The crowd, at one point in the evening portion of EFSEC’s meeting, numbered more than 120. The afternoon session was set aside for official parties to the project’s review.
Kittitas County officials and others said the governor’s question to EFSEC, which she requested be addressed before she makes a final decision on the Horizon project, can only be answered by reopening the formal adjudication process, which involves local public hearings.
Tim McMahan, a Portland attorney representing Horizon Wind Energy, said significant lengthening of the current 1,640-foot setback would make the project economically unviable as more turbines would have to be cut from the proposal planned for both sides of U.S. Highway 97.
The company, he said, is “ill at ease” that the economic viability question has come up and declined to say what number of turbine cuts would definitely doom the project.
To accommodate EFSEC’s maximum 1,640-foot setback, Horizon already plans to cut eight turbines from the 65-turbine project, said Erin Anderson, an Ellensburg attorney representing Horizon.
Since the project was first sought from the state in January 2003, the wind farm has gone from 121 turbines, then was reduced to 80 and then 65 to mitigate visual and sound impacts. Kittitas County rejected the project after Horizon officials said they wouldn’t consider 2,500-foot setbacks from existing homes.
If a 2,500-foot setback is required, Anderson said it would cause another 16 turbines to be cut, which also cuts project revenue in half.
McMahan said the “micro-siting” process for each turbine, in cooperation with EFSEC after the project is fully approved, could very well lengthen some setbacks and address the governor’s concerns.
County Deputy Prosecutor Neil Caulkins said county commissioners, in their rejection of the project last year, called on Horizon officials to tell them what level of turbines would make the project economically viable, but Horizon refused to do so.
Darryl Piercy, county director of Community Development Services, said the company eliminated several turbines from the interior of its 6,000-acre project and questioned why turbines on its edge couldn’t be relocated to the interior, thus lengthening setbacks.
James Carmody, representing Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines, said the project was in the wrong location in the first place, surrounded by lands being purchased for rural residences. He said the project’s environmental review document supports having 2,500-foot setbacks.
Where the governor’s setback inquiry goes from here:
• EFSEC members will meet in a deliberation session, closed to the public, sometime between July 30-Aug. 3 in Olympia to review all oral and written comments.
• The wording of a response to the governor’s question will be decided upon.
• EFSEC members will meet in a public meeting to approve the response to the governor, which also could be in the form of an order, possibly in the first, full week of August. EFSEC also may decide to take this action at its regular meeting set for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 14.
• Possible options – tell the governor the project’s setbacks should stay as is, recommend changes in the setbacks, or call for the reopening of the public adjudication process to further examine setbacks.
Setback arguments abound
The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council for two hours on Tuesday night heard from the public on the governor’s question to EFSEC and got comments pro and con that were familiar to the council from past hearings.
Ed Garrett, recognized by EFSEC as a property owner directly affected by the Kittitas Valley wind farm, said setbacks to property lines of land not yet built upon have been overlooked. He said a turbine in the project is presently planned for 541 feet from his property line.
“This is a serious oversight,” he said.
Garrett called for a minimum 2,000-foot setback between turbines and property lines and 2,500-feet between turbines and existing homes of people not participating in the project. He said they likely should be longer.
Other opponents to the location of the wind farm said some studies show that setbacks should be at least a mile or more to deal with sound and visual problems.
Roger Clerf of Cle Elum said opponents are “vastly over-blowing the potential danger or imagined dangers” from turbines, and the project should go forward for construction. He felt the existing setbacks were adequate and that lengthier ones, like 2,500 feet, would “kill the project outright.”
By Mike Johnston
18 July 2007
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