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Company seeks to put big wind turbine on Galbraith Mountain

The first big wind power turbine in Whatcom County would be built on Galbraith Mountain, if Cascade Community Wind Co. can obtain permits and financing for the project.

Terry Meyer, Cascade’s founder, said he hopes to install one large turbine, or perhaps two medium-sized ones, on a previously logged site owned by Bertch Timberlands LLC. The total capacity of the installation would be two to three megawatts, which Meyer says is enough to power about 1,000 energy-efficient homes.

A single turbine with that capacity would mean a tower about 320 feet high, with 150-foot blades. Because the site is relatively remote, Meyer said it won’t have much impact on views. He has prepared a computer simulation that shows the turbine or turbines barely visible atop the ridge, when viewed from a vantage point on the small dock at the west end of Lake Padden.

Meyer has applied for a conditional use permit for the project from Whatcom County, and he already has a lease agreement with Bertch Timberlands.

Robert Bertch, who runs the Woodinville-based family firm, said the site and surrounding acres were logged in the last 15 years. Private timber owners are showing increased interest in cell towers, wind turbines and any other cash-producing enterprise on their lands, he added.

“That type of additional revenue potential, without much negative impact on timber production, can make timber properties a little more viable,” Bertch said. “You sit on property for a long , long time without any income from it.”

Meyer said his wind power company has built two much smaller, 120-kilowatt installations in Kittitas County, and this would be his first big-time project.

In April 2010, Meyer’s plan for a large wind turbine on Squalicum Mountain was thwarted when worried neighbors convinced four members of the County Council to approve an emergency moratorium on large wind power projects. In that episode, the moratorium was put in place before Meyer applied for permits.

The Squalicum Mountain property was zoned “rural forestry,” and there were homes nearby. The Galbraith Mountain site is zoned “commercial forestry,” and there do not appear to be any dwellings within a few miles.

Wind turbines are listed as a “conditional use” for the commercial forestry zone under county land use rules. The Whatcom County Hearing Examiner will decide whether to grant the project a conditional use permit.

County planner Alex Cleanthous said the Whatcom County Planning Department also will review the project under State Environmental Policy Act regulations to determine what, if any, environmental mitigation measures should be required.

Meyer said he is now conducting wind studies to make sure that the average wind velocity at the site makes it economically practical, but he is optimistic based on data from similar sites in the county.

“We have enough confidence to spend thousands of dollars,” Meyer said. “We have confidence, and we’re confirming that confidence.”

The actual construction of a large turbine will take about $6 million worth of confidence. Meyer said these projects can compete successfully for conventional loans, once wind data confirms their expected output. But Meyer hopes he can raise significant amounts of capital via subscription from households willing to pay $6,000 apiece for a share in the emission-free power supply.