The pace will likely soon pick up in a state review of the 82-turbine Desert Claim Wind Power Project in light of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s approval on Tuesday of another Kittitas County-rejected wind farm – the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project sought by Horizon Wind Energy.
“The governor (in her approval of the Kittitas Valley wind farm) said the state needs more energy from renewable resources with low environmental impact,” said David Steeb, Desert Claim’s project director, earlier this week. “That’s what Desert Claim provides, and it’s why we’re confident it will be approved.”
The Desert Claim wind farm, planned by French-owned EnXco Inc. for eight miles north of Ellensburg, has been moving slowly since the company filed in November 2006 with the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, for approval of a scaled-back version of a project that was first sought directly from Kittitas County in 2003.
Kittitas County commissioners in April 2005 rejected the older, 120-turbine Desert Claim version saying it wasn’t compatible with the surrounding land-use in the project area. That decision was later upheld by a county Superior Court decision.
EnXco officials in November took an alternative path for approval and filed with EFSEC, seeking a state OK of a smaller, 82-turbine wind farm at the same, general site, but with revisions that EnXco officials said make the project more compatible with the surrounding area.
Desert Claim officials said the project was made contiguous, as requested by the county and turbines were removed from certain areas to reduce viewshed issues. In addition, certain turbines will be turned off at specific times in the year to halt any shadow-flicker effects on surrounding properties.
The state EFSEC process requires a power-generating project to initially attempt to make itself compatible with county government land-use rules and then come back to EFSEC for formal hearings. EnXco declared earlier this year it had already made a good-faith effort to do so in past hearings with Kittitas County involving the earlier version of the project.
Kittitas County officials disagreed, saying the downsized project was significantly changed and should be viewed as a new project that must first come before the county as part of the EFSEC process for review. The county claimed the company was trying to get around a local government review.
EFSEC in May agreed with EnXco and said the company doesn’t have to formally file an application with the county, but should try to work out differences by June 30.
On June 28, EnXco officials said they attempted to work out land-use concerns with the county at a prior meeting but did not come to agreement on setbacks between turbines and existing residences. EnXco wanted the 1,656 feet established earlier by EFSEC, the county wanted the company to consider 2,000 to 2,500 feet, according to Steeb.
Company officials also on June 28 formally asked EFSEC to pre-empt, or overrule Kittitas County’s earlier rejection of the project and begin the process of state hearings leading to project approval. County officials objected to the request, arguing the project must first come before the county.
No decisions, yet
Allen Fiksdal, state EFSEC manager, said Wednesday the seven-member EFSEC panel has not decided when and how it will address EnXco’s request for the state to overrule the county’s decision. EFSEC overruled the county’s rejection in recommending the governor approve the 65-turbine Kittitas Valley wind farm sought by Horizon Wind Energy.
Fiksdal said EFSEC is awaiting additional reports and information from EnXco that will go into a supplemental environmental impact study looking at the smaller project. Once that information is received and a draft supplemental EIS is issued to the public, it is likely EFSEC members will decide on formal adjudicative hearing dates that will involve county officials and their land-use concerns.
“Desert Claim has been somewhat on hold waiting to see what the governor decided in the Kittitas Valley project,” Fiksdal said.
Steeb said Gov. Chris Gregoire’s approval of the Kittitas Valley project, which were under similar circumstances faced by the Desert Claim wind farm, is encouraging.
“We’re going to review her approval and then do everything we can to enable Desert Claim to deliver clean, renewable power to nearly 50,000 homes,” said Steeb who added the Desert Claim site is one of the best locations for such a project in the state.
By Mike Johnston
20 September 2007
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