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Gregoire OKs wind farm near Ellensburg

Gov. Christine Gregoire today announced she will overrule local objections and allow a controversial plan to install 65 towering wind turbines in hills northwest of Ellensburg.

Gregoire’s decision was closely watched by environmentalists and local governments, as wind-power projects pop up across Eastern and Central Washington.

Environmentalists urged Gregoire to support the wind-power project, saying it provided vital renewable energy at a time of growing concern about the impact coal and gas-burning power plants can have on climate change.

But the Kittitas County Commission had earlier voted to deny the project, amid objections from neighboring landowners that massive, white towers as tall as old-growth Douglas firs were out of place in a rural area near homes.

It’s the first time a local decision on a power plant has been overturned under a state law first created to site controversial nuclear-power plants.

“It is the clear and compelling policy of the state to prefer new resources that have the least in impact on our state’s natural environment,” Gregoire wrote in a letter to the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, the state agency that oversees where energy plants are built.

To meet the goal of getting more renewable energy, “we will have to build infrastructure that broadly benefits our citizens, and may impose burdens on some.”

Earlier this year, Gregoire had postponed making a decision on the project, and asked the energy council to look for ways to minimize the impact the turbines would have on neighbors, while keeping the project economically viable.

In response, the energy council crafted a rule asking the power company, Horizon Wind Energy, to give a top priority to minimizing the impact on neighbors, when deciding exactly where to place each turbine.

The governor’s decision, however, may not be the end of the political fight over the project. Opponents could now appeal the decision up to the state Supreme Court.

By Warren Cornwall

Seattle Times environment reporter


18 September 2007