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Congressman worried about wind farm decision

Congressman Doc Hastings told Gov. Chris Gregoire on Friday he’s concerned that a final approval by her of a controversial wind farm in Kittitas County will set a negative precedent that says county government’s wind power project review process is of no value.

Hastings, a Republican from Pasco who represents Kittitas County as part of the 4th Congressional District, sent a letter Friday to Gregoire addressing his concerns centered on the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project, a 65-turbine wind farm planned for 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg and sought by Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy.

Hastings urged Gregoire, a Democrat, to consider “the potential implications of setting aside the lawful policies of locally elected officials – not only for future wind farm development, but also for power project siting in Washington generally,” according to a news release and a statement from Hastings.

He wrote that he isn’t asking the governor to approve or deny the $150 million wind farm project but is only asking her to consider the implications of what he believes will occur if she approves the wind project.

Hastings reminded the governor in his letter that this is the first time in state history that the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council has recommended to a governor that it approve a power-generating project “over the lawful objections of a locally elected county government.”

“I have great respect for the work of local county leaders to make the best decisions they can under the burden of often excessive and onerous state and federal government regulations,” Hastings wrote. “Ignoring or overriding these decisions should not be done lightly, and would send a clear signal that the local process if of no value.”

Kittitas County commissioners, as part of the state council’s process, last year voted to reject the Kittitas Valley wind farm after Horizon officials wouldn’t consider longer setbacks, or buffers, between turbines and property of people not leasing their land to Horizon. The company said lengthier buffers, up to 2,500 feet, would cause the project to take out more turbines and harm the economically viability of the wind farm.

EFSEC in March voted 6-1 to recommend the governor override the county’s rejection and approve the project. The governor later asked the state council to reconsider how setbacks longer than 1,320 to 1,640 feet could be achieved without hurting the economic viability of the project.

On Aug. 8, a majority of EFSEC members reaffirmed the project should be approved, but with a change calling on Horizon to make as its highest priority the lengthening of setbacks to existing homes of people not involved with the project. The governor has 60 days to make a final decision.

Hastings said of the six wind power farms in the state, each is located in Eastern Washington and each was built under appropriate local government jurisdiction.

“It is not a matter of deciding whether wind power should be allowed in the county – Kittitas County already hosts the largest single wind project in the state,” Hastings wrote. “The question is under what circumstances the state of Washington would overrule the objections of a locally elected county government on a land-use planning issue.”

He said the recent voter-approved renewable energy mandate initiative – which came about after the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project was denied by county commissioners and which was opposed by most voters in nearly every county in Eastern Washington – will inevitably necessitate building more wind generation, almost exclusively on the east side of the Cascades.

Hastings said similar renewable mandates in California and other western states will only further drive up demand for wind development opportunities in Eastern Washington – and may result in our limited wind energy capacity being sent out of state to benefit others.

Hastings said he hopes that the same standards used by EFSEC on recommending approval of the Kittitas Valley wind farm in Eastern Washington “be consistently applied in the future if a power plant was proposed for construction over the objections of a more populous county on the west side of the Cascades.”

By Daily Record Staff

Daily Record

20 August 2007