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In Our View: Questions in the wind

Wind turbines have been in the local news in recent months because they’ve come across Port of Vancouver docks en route to the windy east side of the Cascade Mountains, where wind farms generate electricity in places such as Klickitat, Kittitas and Walla Walla counties. But now, the rush toward renewable energy sources could be expanding into Clark County. We welcome it. But, plenty of questions surround this week’s stunning development.

A company called Evergreen Wind Power Partners LLC expects to negotiate a lease of 5,400 acres in the hills of east central Clark County from the Washington Department of Natural Resources. As reported in The Columbian Thursday by Erik Robinson, Evergreen would build as many as 39 wind towers in the Yacolt Burn State Forest east of Hockinson and just west of the Larch Corrections Center. At full output, they could supply about 10 percent of the county’s electricity needs.

The company, which is a subsidiary of enXco energy company of Escondido, Calif., is hard to track down. Robinson had no luck Wednesday reaching anyone from Evergreen or enXco who would talk about the proposed project. We had the same experience Thursday. Nor could we find a Web page for Evergreen, although it is mentioned in various online documents of the federal Department of Energy and other government agencies.

The proposal for a commercial wind farm here came as a surprise to Clark Public Utilities, whose spokesman Mick Shutt said Thursday, “We had no knowledge” of the plans until notified by The Columbian on Wednesday afternoon. “I was really surprised. We had not heard any rumblings.” Presumably, owners of a local wind farm would be interested in selling their power to Clark Public Utilities.

Further, as Shutt noted, leasing land and building the wind turbines would be just part of the project. Right of way would have to be acquired for transmission lines, which would have to be erected. Substations would have to be built.

None of this is intended to throw cold water on Thursday’s news from the state Department of Natural Resources, which has taken out newspaper legal advertisements of “intent to negotiate a wind power lease.” Even the Northwest’s beloved hydropower supply has its limits, so the emergence of solar and wind power is to be encouraged.

In 2006, Washington voters approved Initiative 937 requiring large utilities such as Clark to increase renewable energy sources to 15 percent of their total by 2020. Doug Sutherland, a Republican who is the Washington state lands commissioner and head of the DNR said, “Wind power is one of the best ways to meet that new obligation. … It makes good sense” to lease state timber land for wind farms.

So, we wish the DNR and Evergreen Wind Power Partners well. But we won’t get too excited until more is known about the company and its record, the environmental and visual impact of this envisioned wind farm, and plans for getting the power out of the hills.

The Columbian Editorial

23 May 2008