Considering the community outcry last year over the massive Horse Heaven Hills wind farm proposal, we imagine many Tri-Citians are upset by news that the project is a step closer to reality.
The Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) decided this week that Scout Clean Energy’s application to build the wind farm cleared its first hurdle and can move forward.
Council members had to determine whether the application was consistent with Benton County’s land use plans at the time the project was first proposed – and they decided that it did.
But during that discussion, a troubling detail emerged. The council made a point that Benton County previously permitted 25 turbines in the Nine Canyon wind Project.
Does this mean, then, that permitting one wind farm justifies allowing more and more?
That’s an alarming thought.
And it adds to the concern that outsiders see Eastern Washington as a vast and empty space easily exploited by energy companies looking to make a huge profit.
Just because Tri-City residents have been willing to do their part to support clean energy production doesn’t mean our region should be taken advantage of by West-side policy makers pushing a green agenda.
Between nuclear power from the Columbia Generating Station at Hanford, solar projects, the Nine Canyon wind farm and power from Ice Harbor Dam, the Tri-Cities alone generates enough 100% clean energy for more than 1 million homes.
And another, new solar project is now planned 12 miles northeast of Sunnyside and west of the Hanford nuclear reservation site. The Wautoma Solar Energy Project would take over between 3,000 and 3,500 acres of a remote corner of the county, and its project managers are now going for the green-light from the state.
We haven’t heard significant backlash from citizens, and a majority of Benton County commissioners appear supportive of the project.
But the wind farm along the Horse Heaven Hills is a different beast.
Those wind turbines are enormous and comparable to the height of the Seattle Space Needle, where the observation deck is 520 feet. The leased farm land for the project stretches about 24 miles from south of Finley to the south of Benton City and the wind turbines will mar the skyline.
It the project was to be decided at the local level, it wouldn’t make it through.
But Scout Clean Energy made an end-run around Benton County and took the application straight to EFSEC – the state council with power to override local decision makers.
During the last legislative session, Southwestern Washington legislators tried to ensure that communities had more input on where wind and solar projects are sited.
But that language was vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee when he signed House Bill 1812 – legislation that Inslee said would make the siting and permitting for energy facilities more efficient, effective and transparent.
But Reps. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy and Mark Klicker, R-Walla Walla, were upset Inslee vetoed the section of the bill that they had negotiated with Democrats – the section that would have helped ensure Eastern Washington communities could be more involved in the process.
Dye and Klicker said the bill will have devastating consequences to the future landscape and the farmlands of Eastern Washington.
The Horse Heaven Hills proposal is still under environmental review, with a draft Environmental Impact Statement yet to be issued. At that time, there should be an opportunity for more public comment before the final EIS is issued, so citizens should be sure to voice their opinions.
The Tri-Cities is keen on becoming a hub for clean energy, but not at the expense of our vistas.
We understand that the Scout Energy project is supported by union workers eager for jobs, and that the wind farm will be a huge financial boost to the farmers who are leasing the land for it.
But we fear this is could be the beginning of many more forced wind farms dotting Tri-City hills, with no regard to the feelings of those who will have to look at them and live with them every day.
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