The thought of turning our beloved Horse Heaven Hills into a pin cushion for massive wind turbines breaks the hearts of most Tri-Citians.
Yet, in the end, will our sadness be a factor when Gov. Jay Inslee decides whether to approve Scout Clean Energy’s application for its wind project?
That’s the big question.
Inslee is known for his clean-energy goals, and while we support fighting climate change and reducing carbon emissions, many of us in Eastern Washington are tired of feeling like we’re the sacrificial spot for that agenda.
We realize wind projects are bound to be built in our state, but must a project of this magnitude be constructed so close to a major population center?
And, we might add, it’s a population center that relies heavily on the wine industry and the tourism that it brings. Beautiful vineyards, rolling hills and spectacular vistas are what bring people to Tri-Cities’ wine country.
No one will be impressed by a skyline scarred by monolithic structures. More wind turbines will most certainly ruin the view.
At a two-hour public hearing held with Benton County commissioners Tuesday, citizens complained repeatedly that the turbines would be an eyesore and an atrocity in our backyard.
As discussion of this project moves forward, we would like to remind the governor that there is a precedent for heavily weighing the affect wind turbines have on a scenic landscape.
In 2004, the Whistling Ridge Energy Project would have placed wind turbines on a prominent ridgeline near the town of White Salmon, a community along the Columbia River.
While not in the boundaries of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the proposed wind farm was near the line.
Opposition to the plan was fierce, and in the end Washington state decided the project must be scaled down, which eventually led project managers to abandon the plan altogether.
The arguments against the Whistling Ridge wind project were that it would “mar world-class scenery” with “little to no benefit to the state of Washington’s citizens,” according to the Friends of the Columbia Gorge. It also would “harm the local tourism economy and negatively affect property values in surrounding communities.”
Sounds a lot like the same arguments Tri-Citians are making.
The Friends of the Columbia Gorge also say that: “Icons of the Pacific Northwest, like the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Rainier, and the Olympic Mountains, should be off-limits to large-scale energy development. We can combat climate change without having to sacrifice our most special places and our core values.”
We completely agree.
Eastern Washington is not devoid of natural beauty. To Tri-Citians, the Horse Heaven Hills are a special scenic area. Why should it be valued any less than other remarkable sites in Washington state?
To add to the concern, the wind turbines planned by Scout Clean Energy are massive. The Colorado-based company is considering two options – and both include wind turbines comparable to the height of the Seattle Space Needle, where the observation deck is at 520 feet.
One proposal puts 244 turbines at almost 500 feet tall over about 10 square miles. The other option would be to install 150 turbines at 670 feet tall. The leased farm land for the project stretches about 24 miles from south of Finley to the south of Benton City.
If the application were up to Benton County officials, it likely would be dead on arrival. At the public hearing, Commissioners Shon Small and Will McKay voiced opposition to it before the meeting even started.
But the decision won’t be made at the local level.
Scout Clean Energy has filed its application with the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council instead.
Company officials claimed the scale and scope of the project would create a burden on county staff, but to Tri-Citians it feels like an end-run around the local community.
The final decision on whether to allow the project will be decided by the evaluation council and Inslee. The state council plans its own public hearing on the Scout Clean Energy plan on Tuesday, March 30. To register to comment, call 360-664-1345 before the meeting or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And then hope that council officials and Gov. Jay Inslee pay attention and truly listen to local input.
The views of the citizens who will be most affected by their decision should not be easily dismissed.
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