After a month of consideration, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday morning, Sept. 18, announced she has approved the controversial 65-turbine, $150 million Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project proposed for 12 miles north of Ellensburg.
In a prepared statement, Gregoire said she has given “extensive review and careful consideration” to the decision to allow construction of the wind farm planned by Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy, despite Kittitas County government’s rejection last year of the 6,000-acre project located on both sides of U.S. Highway 97.
“It is clear that Washington is growing and with that growth our demands for energy resources also grow,” Gregoire said in a news release. “It is the clear and compelling policy of the state to prefer new resources that have the least impact on our state’s natural environment.”
Her decision was in the form of a letter to Jim Luce, chairman of the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, dated Sept. 18. EFSEC on March 27 recommended the governor overrule or pre-empt Kittitas County’s rejection of the project and approve the wind farm. The pre-emption came as a result of a request from Horizon officials.
“Our legislators and our citizens have recently articulated their strong preferences for renewable resources. Those policies are not in doubt and I remain committed to them…The benefits of this Project are considerable and will accrue to the citizens across our state,” Gregoire wrote.
Gregoire on June 22 directed EFSEC to reconsider the recommended setback distances for some of the turbines from the residences of non-participating landowners. The reconsideration was limited to the single issue of whether or not the distance between turbines and nearby homes could be increased beyond the EFSEC recommendation of a maximum of 1,640 feet while still allowing the project to remain economically viable.
In response to the governor’s directive, EFSEC modified the conditions it had originally proposed for the project. EFSEC directed Horizon to make as its top priority to lengthen the setback of each turbine that is within 2,500 feet of an existing home to beyond the range of the 1,320 to 1,640-feet setback. This would maximize the distance from the homes rather than maximize energy production. It would minimize visual impacts from the turbine towers that could be as tall as 410 feet, according to EFSEC.
“I wish to thank those citizens, particularly those residents of Kittitas County, who took the time and effort to participate in the extensive public process at EFSEC and before the county on this project,” she wrote. “The sentiments expressed in their letters and testimony are well reasoned, well argued, and in the vast majority, respectful of those who hold different views.
“The record is replete with almost every conceivable position on the project from within the county, and if this decision does not reflect the preferred outcome for some, I assure everyone that their voice was heard and their views considered,” said Gregoire in her letter.
In response to Tuesday’s decision, county Commissioner Alan Crankovich said he was disappointed, and that it “sets a very dangerous precedent” in that it overturns a legal, local land-use decision made by a local government.
Crankovich said commissioners are considering possible legal action against the state, one of a handful of options in response to the governor’s decision.
Linda Schantz of Robbins Road, a spokesperson for Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines, said the 400-member group is still opposed to the site of the wind farm, but is not against wind-power generation. She said the tall turbine towers will hurt property values and scenic views.
“The location is a wrong one for an industrial wind farm,” Schantz said. “This action takes away many people’s property rights and their property values.”
She said the governor didn’t take into consideration that the wind farm will also affect 60 to 70 landowners around the proposed site who plan to build someday on their property, but are holding off until the outcome of the wind farm decision.
Tuffy Morrison, a Kittitas Valley wind farm location supporter, said he’s pleased with the decision as the money for turbine-site leases will go to local landowners who will put the money into the local economy. He said it has been shown that lands continue to be sold in the proposed wind farm sites that reflect increasing prices.
Morrison said homes will continue to be built around the wind farm site after the wind farm is constructed.
“The views change all the time,” Morrison said. “The views don’t belong to me, it doesn’t belong to anyone.”
By Daily Record Staff
18 September 2007
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