The energy company behind the 38-turbine wind energy project along the Lewis-Thurston county line is nearing the construction phase as the environmental permitting process wraps up.
“As long as we can get the (final environmental impact statement) on the street, published by mid-next week, I think we’ll be OK,” said Sean Bell, senior development manager with RES-Americas.
Bell said construction on the Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project is slated to begin in April, with the turbines up and running at the end of December. Those timelines remain on track, despite some frustrations with the permitting process.
“It’s not ideal, because the process has taken longer than expected,” said Bell. “If something were to happen next week and we were not able to get (the final environmental impact statement) out, we’d be in a pretty tough place.”
Bell and RES-Americas have been pressing Lewis County to speed up the process, noting that the company has $50 million in deposits on the project due at the end of February. County manager Erik Martin, who has been working with Bell on the project, also said the company’s financiers have been getting impatient with the pace.
Some of RES-America’s frustration stemmed with the fact that the county’s comment letter was not produced on its original timeline, which Martin said was due to unexpected inconsistencies in the documents it was reviewing.
“This is a county document,” Martin said. “When this gets published, this is Lewis County’s work product. … We want to present a good document coming from the county, and we don’t want it to get challenged. We don’t want anybody to have any legal challenges based on inconsistencies.”
Now that the company has the comment letter from the county in hand, it’s proceeding with that work. The comment period for the federal review process has been reopened following the government shutdown, and Bell said that review might not be completed until the summer. However, the federal permitting is only required for operation of the project, not construction.
The windmills will be constructed on Weyerhauser land about 13 miles northeast of Centralia. During construction, Bell said the project will bring in 270 to 300 jobs, with six or seven full time employees in place to run operations long-term.
“We definitely have a local preference for hiring labor,” Bell said of the upcoming construction.
The overall cost for the project is expected to be between $220 million and $240 million. It will generate 137 megawatts of electricity, which will be sold to Puget Sound Energy. The lifespan for the project is expected to be 40 to 50 years. In its first year, it’s expected to generate about $1.9 million of tax revenue.
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