May 20, 2022

WA state council OKs using ag land south of Tri-Cities for 240+ turbine wind farm

WA siting council says Horse Heaven Wind Farm is approved land use | By Annette Cary | Tri-City Herald | May 19, 2022 |

A Washington state council has found that the 24-mile ridge line of Horse Heaven Hills south of the Tri-Cities is an appropriate place for a wind farm.

The Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council voted Tuesday to approve an order finding that Scout Clean Energy’s application to build the Horse Heaven Wind Farm was consistent with Benton County land use plans and zoning regulations in place at the time it was first proposed.

The ruling is one step toward a final Washington state determination on whether the wind farm will be permitted.

Benton County had argued that the site is not consistent with its comprehensive plan’s agricultural zone because it would not preserve and protect prime agricultural land.

The county stressed that eliminating more than 1% of its prime agricultural land from actual or potential agricultural production is significant, according to the order finding the proposed site consistent with land use regulations.

That is directly at odds with the Growth Management Act and the county’s land use plan and ordinances that implement the act, said Ryan Brown, Benton County deputy prosecutor at a EFSEC hearing in March 2021.

The county conceded that the project might be allowed as a conditional use, but only after evidence is provided at a hearing.

The county allows major solar power facilities and wind turbine farms, but they must be permitted as a conditional use in the county’s Growth Management Act Agriculture District.

“For the people of Benton County this is not some minor project ….,” Brown said. “The applicant proposes to put over 200 Space Needle magnitude structures on our horizon that will produce light flicker, noise and that will kill wildlife in addition to taking thousands of acres of land designated as prime ag land out of potential service.”

Scout Clean Energy, which plans the wind farm, said that after construction and during operation of the facility will continue on more than 90% of the acreage within the project’s boundary.

The project would have up to 244 wind turbines plus solar arrays on nearly 6,900 acres of leased agricultural land, or about 1.1% of the county’s land. But the total footprint of leased land would cover about 72,400 acres.

Much of the land is privately owned and used for dryland wheat farming and livestock grazing. Some of the land is managed by the Washington state Department of Natural Resources.

WA council’s decision

The siting council concluded that the project is an allowed use because neither the county’s comprehensive plan or its zoning ordinance “clearly, convincingly and unequivocally” prohibit it.

The council also pointed out that Benton County previously permitted 25 turbines in the Nine Canyon wind Project.

However, conditions could still be set for the construction, operation and maintenance of the project.

The project is still under environmental review, with a draft Environmental Impact Statement yet to be issued.

At that time, there will be opportunity for more public comment before the final Environmental Impact Statement is issued.

At the same time an adjudicative process continues, which also will have an opportunity for interested parties to bring issues to EFSEC before the council makes a recommendation to the governor on whether to approve the project.

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