Atop a ridge once used to monitor Russian spy planes in the Cold War, public-power consortium Energy Northwest hopes to build Western Washington’s first wind-energy project.
Richland-based Energy Northwest wants to build 27 turbines on Radar Ridge near Naselle to generate 82 megawatts. Grays Harbor PUD owns nearly half the output of the project, and PUDs in Pacific, Clallam and Mason counties share the rest.
The 428-foot high towers could supply clean, renewable power to 18,000 homes and help the PUDs meet their I-937 renewable energy requirements.
The $122 million project would be paid for with bonds through the $787 billion federal stimulus package approved by Congress in 2009. Kobus, the Energy Northwest project manager, said it would provide green construction jobs and help the PUDs meet their renewable energy standards.
Because the wind farm is in Western Washington, the PUDs will save millions of dollars during the life of the project in transmission costs, he said.
Marbled murrelets fly from their nests in old-growth forests to the ocean to feed. Listed as threatened since 1992, the birds continues a to decline, with numbers in Washington falling 50 percent over the last decade, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The agency estimates about 5,700 murrelets are in Washington and 18,000 remaining on the West Coast, and less than half are of breeding age, Fish and Wildlife spokesman Doug Zimmer said. Murrelets typically lay only one egg per year, a factor retarding its recovery, he said.
“We have to be very, very sure that what we do doesn’t result in either a continued decline of the population, possibly leading to extinction, and also that it doesn’t lead to a project that has to be abandoned,” he said.
The state Department of Natural Resources says the forest surrounding Radar Ridge is the best murrelet habitat in Washington. Advocacy groups say they’re concerned the rotating turbines could kill the birds in flight.
“It is a very sensitive area for marbled murrelets. Our folks think this is a very poor site for a wind farm,” said Craig Harrison, vice chair for conservation for the Pacific Seabird Group, an association of scientists in California that opposes the project.
Dave Kobus, Energy Northwest’s project manager, said the agency submitted applications in April for a federal “incidental take” permit and building permits with Pacific County. The permit includes a plan to conserve land for the birds’ habitat, he said.
Worst-case scenario, according to Energy Northwest’s study, is that the wind turbines would kill or injure one bird every two years during the next 35 years, Kobus said.
“We’ve proven that the passage rate is so low that the estimated take would be discountable,” he said.
Kobus added that Energy Northwest is pushing to get the project permitted by the end of the year. Otherwise, the consortium risks losing federal loans for the project, he said.
Seattle Audubon is reviewing Energy Northwest’s plan, but Cantrell doesn’t think its position will change.
“I give them a lot of credit for trying to make this project work,” Cantrell said. But the wind farm is ultimately incompatible with the need to save the threatened shorebird, he said. “This is the best place to be growing more murrelet habitat.”
Patricia Cruse, president of the Long Beach-based Discovery Coast Audubon chapter, said she’s surprised that other bird advocacy groups have opposed the Radar Ridge project taking flight. She said she has toured the site and reviewed scientific surveys, and she supports Energy Northwest’s plan to build the wind farm.
The rotating wind turbines would likely be too low to harm the murrelet, she said.
“They would not be that much harm, or any harm, to the birds,” Cruse said.
Harrison said he recognizes the irony of environmental groups criticizing utilities because their clean-energy project isn’t environmentally friendly enough. Scientists at the Pacific Seabird Group support green power, and they want to find a balance with bird safety, he said.
“I agree that’s a dilemma, and it’s something that conservation groups need to grapple with,” Harrison said.
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