Tri-Cities area residents can comment this week on a project that will create a significant change in Benton County for decades to come – a wind and solar farm proposed to stretch along about 24 miles of agricultural land.
The proposed project would be built along the Horse Heaven Hills from south of Finley to south of Benton City. It would be about four miles south of the Tri-Cities urban area, according to Benton County officials.
Scout Clean Energy of Colorado has submitted an application for the Horse Heaven Wind Farm to the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council rather than Benton County.
“Through our conversations with Benton County representatives, it became clear that an application of this scale and scope would create a burden on staff and strain limited local resources,” said David Kobus, the Horse Heaven project manager, when the application was filed with the state council rather than the county.
The site evaluation council and Gov. Jay Inslee have the authority to decide whether to allow the project.
While Benton County will not make the decision, commissioners plan to weigh in after hearing from the public.
The Benton County Commission plans a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 16, at the Benton County Justice Center, 7122 W. Okanogan Place, Kennewick. Face masks will be required and seating will be limited to allow for social distancing.
The town hall may also be viewed online, with links for joining either just to observe or to comment posted on the agenda at bit.ly/HHtownhall.
To join by phone call 509-460-4941. The meeting ID and access code both are 4961#.
Comments also may be emailed to Commissioners@co.benton.wa.us with the subject line “Wind Farm Town Hall Comments.”
In addition, the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council plans a meeting March 30 to provide information and hear comments on whether the proposal is consistent with land use and zoning requirements.
It will be held online via Skype at bit.ly/EFSECmeetingHH and also will have telephone access at 360-407-3810. The meeting ID is 6702140#.
Officials will be available to answer questions from 5 to 5:30 p.m., followed by a presentation and then a public hearing. To sign up to comment call 360-664-1345 before the meeting or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments also may be emailed to that address.
244 wind turbines
Scout Clean Energy – in cooperation with wpd wind project Inc., a Portland wind energy developer – plans a project that would scale up to 1,150 megawatt of wind, solar and battery power.
The first phase of the project could be operating in late 2023.
The county and Scout Energy put the maximum number of wind turbines at 244. They would be placed over 10 square miles of mostly privately owned land now used for dryland wheat farming and livestock grazing.
The application provided to the state council evaluates two options, one with turbines with a height of 500 feet and the other with turbines 670 feet tall.
The first phase of the project could construct 58 to 124 turbines, based on the turbine size, and the second phase includes alternatives with up to 89 turbines or up to 177 turbines.
The solar project could generate 300 megawatts in the first phase, with up to 250 planned for the second phase.
Scout Clean Energy says about 930 jobs will be created to construct the wind energy, solar energy and battery storage facility, including what it called indirect construction jobs.
“Combining wind, solar and battery storage systems at one location helps to mitigate one of the biggest disadvantages of renewable power – variability,” Kobus said.
The project would generate almost $20 million in property taxes during its first full year of operation.
Over the 35-year planned operation of the project, about $260 million in property taxes would be paid, according to Scout Clean Energy.
Wind farm opposition
Opponents of the wind farm have started an online petition at bit.ly/NoHHWF.
They also have started a GoFundMe fundraiser called “Save Our Horse Heaven Hills” that has raised more than $5,000.
“We are in danger of losing the natural beauty of this unique geological feature with majestic ridges, rolling hills, and steep slopes contoured by ice age floods,” says the fundraiser organized by Barry Bush, a Benton PUD commissioner, to raise public awareness.
The Benton County Public Utility District say the drawbacks of adding any more wind farms in the county outweigh the possible small benefit.
Benton PUD concerns about potential new wind farms include quality of life in Benton County, the cost of electricity and the need to develop power projects that can operate consistently no matter the weather to reduce the risk of power grid blackouts as coal plants are shut down under the Clean Energy Technology Act.
“Before PUD customers and citizens throughout our region accept further sacrifice of the natural beauty and open spaces that are part of our way of life, we want them to know there are other options we should be asking our legislators and utility industry leaders to urgently and seriously consider,” the PUD said in a position paper released last year.
The PUD position paper covered wind farms in general and did not directly address the Horse Heaven Wind Farm.
Reasonable questions have been raised about the ability of wind power to cost-effectively contribute to the nation’s power needs and the full environmental and ecological impacts of wind power compared to other energy technologies, the paper said.
The PUD is concerned that increases in Northwest retail electricity rates could harm the Tri-Cities economy by eroding the economic development advantage low rates have provided the Mid-Columbia.
Scout Clean Energy said that information in the report was outdated.
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