A state energy council on Wednesday agreed to tell Gov. Chris Gregoire that a wind farm planned northwest of Ellensburg must make as its “highest priority” efforts to lengthen the distance between turbines and homes of people not leasing their land to the wind power company.
The effort would come when the company decides on the exact location of each tower in a process called micro-siting, which occurs prior to construction.
The governor, when she receives the council reply early next week, will have 60 days to make a final decision on the controversial 65-turbine, $150 million Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project planned by Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy for 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg.
Gregoire on June 22 asked the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to reconsider only one aspect of the council’s earlier recommendation to approve the wind farm. That aspect was the 1,320- to 1,640-foot setbacks, or buffers, between turbines perched on towers and the 16 existing homes around the proposed 6,000-acre site.
The governor asked the state council to determine whether lengthier setbacks between turbines and homes could be required of Horizon Wind Energy while still allowing the project to remain economically viable.
The state council chairman, Jim Luce, said EFSEC’s decision on Wednesday will further lessen visual impacts, and said EFSEC has the final authority to approve and evaluate the exact location of each turbine against the new “minimum visual impact” requirement.
“The council heard the governor loud and clear and has taken additional steps to help minimize potential visual impacts raised by some non-participating landowners in the affected area,” Luce said in a prepared statement.
Gregoire wanted EFSEC to consider setbacks beyond the council’s required length of four times the height of a tower, from ground to the tip of a vertically-extended rotor blade. Depending on the final type of tower and turbine chosen for the project, the EFSEC setback would be 1,320 to 1,640 feet.
Allen Fiksdal, EFSEC manager, said the council voted 5-1 to send to the governor a reply that calls for the change in the setback requirements the company must observe. Voting against the change was Patti Johnson who represents Kittitas County on the state council. She works as the director of Kittitas County’s Solid Waste Department.
The majority of EFSEC members want Horizon, in the final siting of those turbines that are within 2,500 feet of residences of people not participating in the project, to make as the highest priority the increasing of the setback distance beyond the 1,320 to 1,640 feet.
Johnson, contacted after the EFSEC meeting in Olympia, said she voted on March 27 against recommending the project’s approval to the governor and also voted Wednesday against the turbine-siting change as a reply to the governor.
“It didn’t go far enough,” Johnson said about the EFSEC decision. “It tells the wind farm applicant to try and establish longer setbacks, make it their highest priority, but it doesn’t set any farther setback standards. There is not enough enforcement behind it.”
Johnson said the EFSEC decision doesn’t define when the company is making an effort equal to a “highest priority.” She said if EFSEC reviews a specific turbine site and it seems it could go farther away from a residence, there are no standards to judge the company’s efforts by.
“If the company says they can’t go farther because it will harm the wind farm’s economic viability, we don’t have any method of determining economic viability,” Johnson said.
By Mike Johnston
9 august 2007