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Wind turbine project for Thurston/Lewis counties moves forward

The Skookumchuck wind energy project, first pitched in Thurston County more than a year ago, continues to inch its way through the land-use process.

A Colorado-based company called RES Americas proposes to build 51 wind turbines on Weyerhaeuser property, near the Skookumchuck reservoir, that straddles the Thurston-Lewis county line.

The company, which has long worked with Puget Sound Energy, has said it intends to “interconnect” with the utility.

A memorandum of understanding was recently approved by Lewis County Commissioners designating Thurston County as the lead agency for the State Environmental Policy Act process for the project, said Robert Smith, a senior planner for Thurston County.

Now, the county is seeking bids for SEPA services, including someone who would prepare the Environmental Impact Statement, Smith said. The request for proposals was posted Oct. 20 and the closing date is Nov. 13. Ultimately the project, which requires a special use permit, will come before the county’s hearings examiner, he said.

Smith also anticipates there will be public meetings after the EIS is complete.

Meanwhile, the project is slightly different from when it was first pitched to Thurston County in April 2016 as part of a pre-submission conference.

Then, RES Americas was considering 52 wind turbines, with 14 in Thurston County and 38 in Lewis County. Now, the overall number is 51, with no more than eight wind turbines proposed for Thurston County. The remainder would be in Lewis County, Smith said.

After the pre-submission conference – a meeting that gives developers an idea of land-use requirements – RES Americas submitted its special use permit application in the spring, triggering written comments from the public.

The county received about 15 comments, all of which raised concerns about the wind turbine blades and their effect on birds and bats, as well as the possibility of wind turbines catching fire.

“It is estimated that wind turbines kill an estimated 140,000 to 328,000 birds each year in North America, making it the most threatening form of green energy,” wrote Chris Nubbe of Olympia.

Alex Foster of Yelm wrote: “I am an advocate of renewable, green energy production. This project, if done carefully, may provide a good and reliable contribution to our future energy needs in this region.”

Still, Foster raised concerns about visual impacts, as well as aviation, fire and bird safety.

The project, which is expected to generate about 180 megawatts of power, is set begin operations in December 2018.

PSE’s Wild Horse wind farm near Ellensburg has 149 turbines that generate up to 273 megawatts of power, or enough to serve 63,000 homes.