Gov. Christine Gregoire just allowed an unelected commission known as the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to preempt a local land-use decision by the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners. The issue of siting huge wind-turbine installations has been a bit under the radar screen in Western Washington, but the governor’s action should raise alarms all over the state.
If this massive overreach of state authority is not reversed, we can be certain that the EFSEC process will be used by companies to allow more and bigger wind installations anywhere in our state.
Kittitas County officials showed good faith and careful decision-making when they earlier approved the Wild Horse Wind Farm project in an appropriate location in the eastern part of the county.
Those same county commissioners unanimously denied wind installations in populated and economically viable regions of the Western Kittitas Valley, one of the most pristine and treasured parts of our state.
The most-recent order by EFSEC, approved by the governor and allowing the Kittitas Valley Wind Power project near Ellensburg to proceed, is completely unacceptable to those of us who own property, pay taxes, and participate in the local economy and county government.
Within hours of the decision, French-owned enXco petitioned EFSEC to reopen its application for a huge wind-turbine installation that also was previously denied by Kittitas County.
This controversy will boil down to the fine print in the state constitution and whatever legal authority the Legislature may or may not have conveyed to EFSEC and the governor. Obvious conflicts with the Growth Management Act and its strictures will also be a part of the argument.
Other counties also are concerned about this precedent. What good will county decisions be when the state is allowed to sweep aside any ruling of locally elected officials and mandate whatever those in Olympia are star-struck with at the time?
EFSEC was established in the 1970s when emerging anti-nuclear hysteria was threatening to tie up siting of proposed nuclear plants. With no need for such sites, EFSEC has languished for a generation with not much to do. Instead of sunsetting the entire moribund organization, the Legislature in 2001 gave EFSEC additional authority to cover alternative energy proposals. After all these years, EFSEC has grasped at the chance to make a name for itself by preempting both the zoning code and the decisions of Kittitas County commissioners. This has never been done before.
No matter which side of the wind-farm issue people may be on, the precedent-setting actions of EFSEC and Gregoire should be anathema. The issue is as much about state authority (or the lack thereof) over county governments as it is about siting some misbegotten wind turbines.
If this decision is not reversed, two intolerable situations will result:
• Local governments won’t be able to protect themselves from preemption and mandates from the state.
If EFSEC gets away with this regarding a wind farm, how long before the state starts cloning EFSEC wannabes? Soon, they will be siting everything from regional airports to Wal-Marts, anywhere they desire, over the carefully researched rulings of local officials.
No Washingtonian should want to see this situation develop, and it very well might if this preemption stands.
• Also, EFSEC will immediately become the go-to body for energy companies around the world that want to force their monstrous wind-farm plans wherever in the state they may wish to build.
There will be absolutely no protection for anyone living anywhere. Great swaths of Washington will be festooned with giant turbines, which create very little energy but destroy property values and quality of life for miles in all directions.
This should not be allowed to happen in Kittitas County – other neighborhoods may be next. We elect our county officials to represent us and make decisions on our behalf for the benefit of the entire county. They – and, by extension, we – do not deserve to have their carefully reasoned decisions thrown back in our faces by unelected bureaucrats and a governor who ignores an entire county of constituents.
Jeff Howard is an associate real-estate broker who divides his time between Redmond and Cle Elum, Kittitas County, where he owns property. He has been involved in the wind farm siting issue since 2003.
11 October 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding