These rules could improve views of an Eastern WA wind, solar project. What are your thoughts?
Credit: By Annette Cary | Updated December 22, 2022 | tri-cityherald.com ~~
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A state council is proposing ways to minimize the view of hundreds of soaring towers and spinning turbine blades from a massive wind and solar energy farm planned south of the Tri-Cities.
Scout Clean Energy wants to build up to 244 wind turbines with blades possibly extending as high as the Seattle Space Needle. They would stretch along the Horse Heaven Hills from south of Finley to south of Benton City.
Tri-Cities area residents have been sharply divided on the project, ranging from concerns for wildlife and views to the interest in adding more jobs and expanding clean energy options.
This week, the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council released a voluminous draft environmental study for the project.
The public has until Feb. 1 to submit comments on the environmental impact statement.
Tri-Cities area residents have been sharply divided on the project.
Scout Clean Energy is proposing up to 244 wind turbines that would stretch along the Horse Heaven Hills from south of Finley to south of Benton City.
The project site would be 112 square miles, although the developed area of the project would cover only about 10 square miles.
The project also would include solar facilities and battery storage, for a maximum output of up to 1,150 megawatts, depending on the weather.
The project would provide close to 1,000 construction jobs, and a union agreement signed in June ensures that the jobs would be filled by local workers.
“The Tri-Cities union trades stand in strong support of the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center,” said Francisco Elguezabel, business manager of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 348, as the draft study was released Monday.
The project also would contribute $250 million in local tax revenue over it 35-year operating lifespan, says the developer.
“The Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center will revolutionize the energy landscape in Eastern Washington, supporting the statewide transition to clean energy,” said Dave Kobus, senior project manager at Scout Clean Energy.
But other Tri-Cities residents are concerned about the loss of agricultural land and the impact to skyline views.
Depending on how many turbines are included in the final design, some could reach 671 feet high.
Benton County has argued the project would eliminate more than 1% of its prime ag land from actual or potential agriculture production.
About 80% of public speakers at a county town hall in the Tri-Cities in March 2021 opposed the project. They said it would be an “atrocity,” an “eyesore” and “grotesque.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., has weighed in, saying that the scale of the project would have a “colossal impact” on skyline views, which are valued not only by area residents but by tourists drawn to the Tri-Cities world-class wine industry.
Wind turbine view mitigation
The draft environmental study proposes multiple steps to reduce the visual impact of the project, including shadow flicker cast by moving blades on nearby homes.
- Turbines should be more than a half mile from residents whose land is not part of the project.
- Advertising and cell phone messages, which the study said would be out of place in the ag landscape, would not be allowed on turbines.
- Solar collectors would need to be a color that minimizes contrast with the landscape, and solid fencing would be required to screen views of solar arrays that are adjacent to viewpoints or homes.
- The battery energy storage system should mimic ag structures in the area in both scale and appearance.
- Structures should be as far as possible from roads.
- Flickering shadows from turning blades should be avoided if possible at nearby homes. The flicker also could be addressed by planting trees or shading windows. As a last resort, the turbine blades could be programmed to stop turning during brief periods when shadow flicker would occur.
- Scout Energy would be required to set up a complaint resolution procedure that would include a 24-hour hotline for shadow flicker issues.
The draft environmental study also covers other impacts of the proposed wind and solar project, including to wildlife and to the tribes.
Wildlife and Horse Heaven project
In 2021 the ferruginous hawk that nests in the Tri-Cities area was declared an endangered species in Washington state, and the ridge line of the Horse Heaven Hills is an important foraging area for raptors, according to the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
No structures would be allowed within two miles of ferruginous hawk nests, according to the draft study.
Fencing would be limited where feasible to limit barriers to the movement of pronghorn antelope.
Mitigation steps would also be required for other species, including burrowing owls and eagles.
The Yakama Nation says that the project likely would impact traditional cultural properties, including spiritual sites, and a documented archaeological site.
Coordination with the tribe is continuing, according to the study.
The wind, solar and battery storage project is proposed by Scout, of Boulder, Colo., which is a portfolio company of Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, a private equity firm.
Quinbrook is selling Scout to Brookfield Renewable, a publicly traded company, Quinbrook announced in September.
The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council will decide whether to recommend the project to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will make the final decision.
Comment on draft study
The draft study is posted at efsec.wa.gov under the Horse Heaven Wind Project section. It also is available at libraries in Benton County and Pasco.
The comment period has been extended through Feb. 1, because the study was released during the holiday season. Public meeting times and locations are not yet announced.
Comments may be submitted online at comments.efsec.wa.gov or mailed to Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, 621 Woodland Square Loop SE, Lacey, WA 98504-3172.
The state also plans separate adjudication proceedings for the proposed wind and solar project, with a virtual public hearing to address Benton County’s criteria for issuance of a conditional use permit for the project.
Anyone wishing to speak at the adjudication hearing, which also is not yet scheduled, must file a written comment raising at least one specific issue by Jan. 31.
Written comments may be sent to email@example.com or to Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council; Attn: Horse Heaven Adjudication; 621 Woodland Square Loop SE; PO Box 43172; Olympia, WA 98504-3172.
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