Kittitas County commissioners’ action Tuesday to deny an expansion of the wind-power overlay zone has some pleased and others disappointed, depending on what side of the issue they stand.
Columbia Plateau Energy Facility LLC of Mill Creek wanted the boundaries of the county’s wind-power overlay zone expanded to the west to take in 5,760 acres of shrub-steppe land outside the existing 500-square mile zone.
Landowners against the westerly expansion of the zone east of Kittitas – a group called Kittitas Residents Opposed to Windfarm Sprawl – said they are happy with the vote, but they will continue to fight any wind project trying to build outside the existing overlay zone, contending wind farms moving outside the zone are more apt to hurt land values, mar scenic vistas and wreck the future livability of the Kittitas Valley.
Those supporting the expansion said carefully located wind farms that create scant environmental impact in an expanded zone can bring much-needed jobs and tax revenue to the community, along with local government control, all of which is likely now lost from the specific proposal with the commissioners’ vote.
During the Tuesday hearing, 29 people spoke against the zone expansion, and four expressed support for the request.
Opposition calls for vigilance
KROWS spokesman Harland Radomske of Venture Road said the group is pleased with the commissioners’ decision.
“However, the Kittitas Valley citizens must remain vigilant as the attempt by big money investment to place a wind farm anywhere where there is a convenient, existing power line and open ridges will continue,” Radomske said after the hearing.
Members of the group, part of a 100-plus hearing audience Tuesday, expressed relief after the three-hour public hearing and after commissioners voted unanimously to turn down the expansion request from Columbia Plateau.
KROWS argues that a future wind farm outside the zone creates health and safety risks and harms the environment and wildlife habitat for years to come. The group also believes the long-term economic benefits of wind farms are exaggerated by developers.
Columbia Plateau representatives, including the firm’s attorney Erin Anderson, declined to comment on the commissioners’ Tuesday decision.
Radomske said valley residents can expect Columbia Plateau and other wind development firms “to continue the attempt to turn the entire valley into a whirling, blinking mega-valley.”
Terry Kellogg, a resident of the rural development of Sage Hills, said he was delighted with the commissioners’ vote, but was concerned commissioners “left the door open” to allow Columbia Plateau to build a wind farm by an optional county review process.
“Nobody is against wind farms for generating electricity if they’re in the right place,” Kellogg said. “The overlay zone as it’s now located is the right place. Just keep them inside the line and there will be no fight.”
Gloria Baldi, of Kittitas Audubon, spoke Tuesday against the expansion of the zone and later said she was “quite pleased” with the decision.
Her concerns continue to be the number of bats and birds, including raptors, killed by spinning wind turbine blades.
The commissioners’ vote, she said, is likely only a temporary reprieve from more wind farm proposals. She said she would have liked a “definite no” from commissioners on allowing any wind farms outside the overlay zone.
“I sense that this is just a temporary thing,” Baldi said, “and this or other projects will be submitted in the near future.” She said community members concerned about more wind farms in the valley need to stay informed and involved.
She said bird and bat kill studies from Klickitat County wind farms are showing more kills are occurring than expected.
“We need a study looking at what kills are happening at all the wind farms in Kittitas County,” Baldi said. “If wind farms are allowed to proliferate throughout the valley, we’ll see more and more bird and bat mortality.”
Radomske said the vast majority of proponents and those supporting the wind farm zone expansion, and more wind projects in the valley, don’t live close to wind turbines or near potential project lands.
“They are not directly affected as we would be,” Radomske said about rural homeowners around the expansion area. “They don’t have to live with them.”
Supporters are disappointed
Joy Potter, the owner-operator of an Ellensburg-based consulting group, said Wednesday she was shocked and disappointed with the commissioners’ vote on the wind overlay expansion requested by Columbia Plateau Energy Facility for a future wind farm.
“The benefits to the community of a wind project there are clear,” said Potter, who has worked in the wind-power industry in Washington, Oregon and Montana.
The area proposed for expansion has good wind resources, Potter said. A project can provide wide economic benefits and be sensitive to habitat and surrounding property owners, she added.
She said the 500-square-mile overlay zone was approved by county commissioners in 2007, partly as a way to encourage wind projects to go through the county government review process and keep developers from seeking an alternative path to approval through state government’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC).
She said denial of zone boundary changes will force wind power developers to go to the state process and away from county government.
“EFSEC takes away the county’s control and authority over a project,” Potter said. “It’s in the county’s best interest to have projects go through the county.”
She added that much of the existing overlay zone is not available for wind projects because of military training property used for maneuvers and the state not wanting to disturb sensitive park lands.
Potter said wind projects are creating new, family-wage jobs locally.
Jim Armstrong, CEO of the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supported the expansion because of the economic development potential from a future wind farm and the increase in property tax revenue a project would bring to local governments.
“And at the same time, we are not blind to the property owner concerns about their land values and with their viewshed,” Armstrong said.
He said perhaps 15 to 20 well-paying permanent jobs might have come from a wind project in the expansion area.
Although the chamber would have liked to have seen the expansion proposal go forward, Armstrong said it accepts the local government process and the outcome.
Ron Cridlebaugh, economic development director for the chamber, during the Tuesday hearing called on commissioners to re-examine the existing overlay zone to determine if it is functioning to attract wind projects as it was intended and if infrastructure is there to serve wind farms.
Also during the hearing, Debbie Strand of Ellensburg, representing the private, nonprofit advocacy group WindWorks! Northwest, said a preliminary economic study by the group shows during a year’s construction, a wind project on the expansion lands would generate 115 jobs with a payroll of $7.5 million.
She added that a good share of that, and a portion of the construction costs, would go to local businesses in food, restaurants, lodging, fuel, equipment and hiring local workers and contractors.
On top of that, a project would generate $1 million a year in local taxes and 11 permanent, family-wage jobs with a payroll of $710,000 annually.
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