A huge wind farm planned to stretch along the Horse Heaven Hills just south of the Tri-Cities would be a blight on the community, speaker after speaker said Tuesday at a town hall meeting.
Scout Clean Energy of Colorado has applied to the state of Washington for a permit to build the Horse Heaven Wind Farm project, which would include wind, solar and battery storage.
Although the Benton County Commission only has input into a state decision on whether to allow the project, it held a public meeting in Kennewick to gather public opinion before commissioners submit comments to the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.
The council and Gov. Jay Inslee have final say over the project.
About 80% of the speakers were opposed the project at the town hall meeting, with 44 signed up to speak in person and others calling in comments.
They used terms like “atrocity,” “eyesore” and “grotesque.” One woman came with a poster board saying the Horse Heaven Hills would need to be renamed the Horse Hell Hills.
Those supported the project were mostly union members and officials, who said they spoke for many more than just themselves, who wanted the construction jobs the project would bring and then the limited number of maintenance jobs during the project’s operation.
A representative of Labors’ Local 348 in Richland said the project would give jobs to more than 1,000 construction workers.
“It’s great for working men and women in our community,” he said.
Scout Clean Energy is considering two options.
One would have 244 turbines standing up to almost 500 feet tall over about 10 square miles of the total 112 square miles to used for the project.
The other option would be to install fewer, but taller, turbines. There would be 150 turbines standing up to 670 feet tall.
‘Should be appalled’
“I understand the importance of green energy, but to have these massive towers right in our backyard is an atrocity in my opinion, said Matt Malin, a mechanical engineer, who lives two miles south of the Tri-Cities southern urban growth boundary.
The urban growth area covers the area where the Tri-Cities, Benton City and Prosser expect to grow over the next 20 years.
The leased land for the wind farms stretches along about 24 miles from south of Finley to south of Benton City.
“This project is not just in our urban growth area, it is our growth area,” said Barry Bush, a Benton County Public Utility District commissioner, who said he was not representing the PUD at the meeting.
The PUD has opposed building more wind farms in Benton County, but has not taken a stand on this project.
“If you are a Realtor or a builder you should be appalled,” Bush said.
People are not going to want to buy homes that look out at wind turbines and it will not help the area’s tourism industry, he said.
However, Scout Clean Energy said its project would be on land outside of the urban growth area that is designated for agriculture use.
Benton County officials said that if the 244 wind turbine option is pursued, more than 200 turbines would be visible from some areas, some of them to the north of the project.
While the industrialization of the skyline to the south of the Tri-Cities would endure for decades, the local community would see little benefit, several people said.
Scout Clean Energy, the landowners and construction workers who get short-term jobs would benefit, said Doug Fearing of Kennewick, who has lived in Benton County for 72 years.
“We get to look at these things. That is what we get to do,” he said.
He called the many wind turbines he sees when he drives to Portland and Walla Walla “butt ugly.”
Others said they were concerned by the shadow flicker on nearby residents as the turbines rotate and also the night lighting required by the Federal Aviation Administration.
One person described the flickering red lights from another wind farm that she sees in the dark from her family’s cabin in the Blue Mountains.
Power generation needs
Several people said they expected power generated by the project to be sent south to California or possibly to the west side of Washington.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council projects a need for 8,000 more megawatts by 2030 as demand rises and more than 4,400 megawatts of coal-fired and hydroelectric power generation is retired.
But Bush said Horse Heaven Wind Farm turbines would not provide a local benefit because more electricity is needed on the hottest and coldest days of the year when the wind is not blowing.
The energy complex would produce only 30% of its stated capacity and would need to be backed up with hydroelectric dams and nuclear plants that generate electricity more reliably, said Richard Yrjanson of Richland.
The project, including wind and solar, would have a generating capacity of up to 1,150 megawatts. At full capacity that is about the power required by a city the size of Seattle.
Yrjanson called the project “a very expensive way to generate quite unreliable electricity.
David Kobus, project manager for the Horse Heaven Wind Farm, said after the meeting that power production is an export economy, not unlike the wheat grown in the area and exported now.
Much of the land proposed for the project is now used for dryland wheat production and grazing.
“These property owners have the right to seek the fullest economic use of the land that has been in their families for generations,” he told the county commissioners during the meeting.
Several people said that there were better uses of the land than wind and solar power production.
One person said the proposed project was just too big and too close to the Tri-Cities.
But Kobus said Scout Clean Energy picked the site based on factors such as being close to adequate transmission capacity and being near markets for the power.
Purchasers for the power have yet to be identified, with the project not yet having permits or starting construction.
Kobus said issues with turbine shadow flicker had been worked out on a one-by-one basis with the owners of the limited number of properties that could be affected.
The project, planned over two phases would generate almost $20 million in property tax revenue during its first full year of operation, according to an economic impact analysis commissioned by Scout Clean Energy.
Over 35 years of operation, the project would pay nearly $260 million in property taxes, much of that going to local schools, according to the company.
Washington state meeting
Tri-Cities area residents and others will have a second chance to comment at a land use hearing before the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council at 5 p.m. March 30.
People will be allowed to comment on all issues surrounding the proposed Horse Heaven Wind Farm, according to the agency.
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.
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